Cincinnati Public Schools Partners With Belcan for New Cyber Academy



Taft High School Cyber Academy students expand their thinking about security through a series of lock-opening challenges.

Photo by Catie Viox

 

As one of about two dozen sophomores participating in Cincinnati Public Schools’ first year of its Cyber Academy at Robert A. Taft Information Technology High School, Lariya Guess is learning and honing highly marketable skills that she can one day craft into a lucrative, challenging career.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun,” Guess says, moments before she and her fellow Cyber Academy classmates enjoy pizza and soda as part of a “lunch-and-learn” gathering in the high school media center. Also in attendance are officials from Belcan, Cincinnati’s global engineering and technical staffing giant. Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) has partnered with Belcan, ComSpark Tech and Innovation Summit and Lead Tribune Media Group to create this tailor-made cybersecurity curriculum for Taft IT students.

Terry Williams, Belcan’s chief information officer, and Ron Ford, Belcan’s vice president of cybersecurity, connect with the students participating in this pilot program once a month to answer any questions they may have and to keep them informed about exciting upcoming additions to the curriculum. They want to make sure the students have what they need to be successful in completing the Cyber Academy, and they are always looking for ideas on how to make the program more fun and engaging.

“We want to find some exciting, challenging games and other hands-on activities outside of the reading and academics to help you figure out what cybersecurity is all about,” Williams tells the students. “We want to change it up a little.”

Capturing and keeping students’ interest in cybersecurity as their future profession is clearly more than a game to Williams, Ford and CPS officials, however. As online technologies evolve and cyber criminals’ methods become more sophisticated, they point out, cybersecurity is rapidly becoming a top global priority for companies like Belcan, as well as for governments and smaller organizations. It’s one of the fastest growing professions in the world. But it’s an industry facing a significant shortage of trained, skilled cybersecurity professionals, partially because not enough young people are taking an interest in IT and computer security, Williams explains.

About 348,000 cybersecurity specialist positions are currently waiting to be filled. Some recent estimates indicate there will be as many as 3.5 million unfilled positions in the
industry by 2021. Meanwhile, cyber criminals are taking advantage of understaffed businesses’ vulnerability and inability to respond to security breaches and attacks.

“Most data breaches cost tens of millions of dollars,” Williams notes. “The problems are not the breaches themselves but the negative impact on organizations’ reputations.”

One of Belcan’s goals in establishing the Cyber Academy at Taft IT is to make sure the CPS mission – to ensure all graduates are equipped to fulfill one of the three E’s: Employment, Enrollment in college, or Enlistment in the military – is carried out.

“Whether it’s employment, whether it’s college enrollment, or whether it’s enlistment in the military, this kind of course work will enable students to do any one of those,” Ford says. “We appreciate the students’ efforts. We know it’s a lot of hard work, inside and outside of school, and we are confident they will see very positive outcomes.”

 

On the Cybersecurity Training Frontlines

By launching the academy, CPS secured a key role in the cybersecurity space and school officials are excited about training the next generation of cybersecurity experts.

“It’s a tremendous platform for our students to have the opportunity to gain the knowledge and skillset needed for this industry – the absolutely hottest industry in our culture right now,” says Brian Daft, Taft IT technology teacher and Cyber Academy instructor. “It’s 100 percent something that can lead to a high-paying job when they graduate. Belcan has been so supportive and willing to go above and beyond to help the students. Technology is always evolving, and so is the Cyber Academy.”

Daft is more than pleased with how the academy is going and how students are faring since the academy marked its official kick-off
last April.

“We’re using Belcan’s Cyber Academy [student] curriculum, so it’s straight from an industry leader,” Daft adds. “It’s going great. The students are enjoying it. Whenever you have a program that directly and positively impacts the kids’ lives, it’s a good thing.”

Belcan also offers a wide range of cyber-focused courses for adults and professionals interested in charting new career paths.

 

How It Works

Taft IT sophomores with the aptitude and passion to learn and study cybersecurity were selected to participate in the first year of this program. During the three-year course, students take online cyber classes and at least one instructor-led class during the summer. Students advance through a variety of courses and take CompTIA and network security courses their junior and senior years to prepare them for certification exams.

The Cyber Academy partners with the SANS Institute to incorporate its CyberStart suite of online challenges, tools and games into the academy’s curriculum. The games – designed for those without any pre-existing cybersecurity knowledge – provide engaging narratives involving the day-to-day activities of today’s cybersecurity professionals. Students are given the opportunity to explore Linux, cryptography, programming, forensics and other cybersecurity cornerstones.

It’s a challenging program, Belcan and school officials note, but one that promises Taft IT students that if they do their best and stay the course, they will graduate with a head start in landing a high-paying job in the cybersecurity industry.

“With the types of things you will be doing, you will have the unique opportunity to work anywhere in the world,” Williams tells the students. “Once you complete this program, opportunities will open up to you across the globe because there is such a shortage of [cybersecurity] talent. I want to see all of you make it through the program. I want to see all of you make a lot of money. Some of my top people make well over $200,000 a year, so we’re not talking small dollars. You don’t start there, of course, but where you start is further ahead than most other jobs. I want to see all of you succeed and do great things for you and your future families. We are going to keep working with you, and we want you to have some fun along the way.”

CPS is touted as the first urban school district in the country to offer a cybersecurity program. Other schools in the Cincinnati area have expressed an interest in establishing a cybersecurity academy, but Belcan wants to make sure its signature program at Taft IT is up and running successfully, all bugs worked out, before expanding.

Today’s students are the region’s future employees, entrepreneurs, and business and community leaders, CPS officials note. They need to graduate from high school with more than traditional academic knowledge, and that requires experiences that help them navigate the road toward highly skilled, high-demand, high-wage careers. The Cyber Academy offers students those needed opportunities, ensuring they gain real-world experiences and credentials that will position them for success after graduation.

“Belcan is honored and excited to be a part of this cutting-edge cybersecurity training program for students in the Cincinnati area,” Williams says. “We believe this program will improve the lives of students by preparing them for immediate entrance into a growing market with a high demand for trained professionals.”

 

Cincinnati Public Schools’ administrative offices are located at 2651 Burnet Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45219. For more information, visit www.cps-K12.org