CNCC’s new cybersecurity program celebrates fruitful first semester
After just its first semester at Colorado Northwestern Community College, the cybersecurity program has already gotten five of its students certified in the field.
Rodney Alexander, program director for cybersecurity, said that the students who now have certificates from CompTIA (the Computing Technology Industry Association) now have an industry qualification that will help them get a job in the digital field. Specifically, he said, it allows you to become a network analyst or a cybersecurity analyst.
“Right now, there’s a large shortage of about 30,000 for cybersecurity analysts nationwide,” Alexander said. “An analyst’s goal is to prevent cyber attacks. To monitor the network and to help organizations prevent cyber attack: that’s their job. They’re building firewalls, virtual private networks, monitoring intrusion detection systems (and) setting up and monitoring physical security barriers.”
This semester, Alexander said his classes range from nine to 12 students per class. Students will continue through the curriculum for two years and end with an associate’s of applied sciences in cybersecurity at the end of the program. Though not all of the students received CompTIA certificates at the end of this semester, they still have opportunities to test again over the course of the program.
In addition to the standard academic program, CNCC offers cyber boot camps for high school students, and Alexander said that concurrent enrollment for cybersecurity classes with regional high schools are in the works, as well. Next semester, the college will provide an entire class on digital forensics, or the process of using computer equipment to solve crimes. That can include seeing where an email was sent from or acquiring data stored onto other computers.
“We start with the basics, and we go into secure coding,” he said “They learn about digital forensics, risk management, and they also take some gen-eds — technical writing, ethics, classes like that. (This semester’s students) have finished the beginning, and they keep going from here. We had a boot camp last summer for high school kids and we’re hoping to continue that this summer to get them started.”
Alexander came to CNCC in 2020 from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, where he was teaching networking and cybersecurity after a long career with the Department of Defense. He said that it’s important that businesses and governments alike have cybersecurity analysts who know how to protect information and assets from those who may want to commit cyberattacks. In the program, students complete drills of simulated cyber attacks and learn the ins and outs of equipment like routers and firewalls to get hands on experience in cybersecurity.
“I was in the army, and there are other countries that may try to attack U.S. systems,” Alexander said. “We’re dependent on the power grid and the power plant, which could be targets. We’re dependent on automation, and it’s important to protect that, as well. Even though we’re in Craig, we’re still tied to the state and national automation systems.”
The cybersecurity program is funded by a $500,000 grant from the Colorado Attorney General’s office that was awarded in January of 2020. Though it just completed its first semester, Alexander said they will start a new group of students in the spring, and he said he hopes that the program will continue to grow. He added that he and others at CNCC want to provide work experience, internship opportunities and connect students with employment once they finish the program.
“They’re excited. They worked hard for 15 weeks to get (the certifications). They had study groups at night together, did flashcards and worked really hard,” Alexander said. “We’re excited about the upcoming semester. 15 weeks is a rough time to learn all of that information, but we made it through.”
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