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5 min read

CSUSB's Cybersecurity Center Filling Worker Gap with Innovation and Grassroots Outreach

There's currently a shortage of cybersecurity workers in the US, and it's not just a problem for companies looking to fill jobs focused on protecting data, networks, and people. Tony Coulson, Ph.D. at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB), calls this workforce shortage a "clear and present danger to the United States" and a problem that's been predicted for 20 years.

As Executive Director of the Cybersecurity Center and professor at CSUSB, Dr. Coulson is on a mission to provide solutions to the negative unemployment situation in cybersecurity. His work has led to the development of multiple programs that expose more people to cybersecurity careers, provide learning resources, and map out paths to employment to combat a deficit that currently aligns only one worker for every eight jobs.

"Basically, our defenses are like kindergarten and it's because we can't get enough people," said Dr. Coulson. "The good news for students is that this is a very lucrative field. You have to be able to do the work, but it's a great career field, and it's also helping to preserve a way of life that we all enjoy."

The Cybersecurity Center at CSUSB is a National Center of Academic Excellence (CAE) in Cybersecurity. CSUSB is one of 335 CAE colleges and universities that are working together on this single problem of defending the nation's information and networks by providing education and training in the field of cybersecurity.

CyberSquad Outreach Has Engaged 20,000 Youth

Recruitment efforts start with outreach from Coulson's staff at the Cybersecurity Center to create awareness of career opportunities and help young people uncover aptitudes and interests that can lead to a successful career. In the last four years, this "CyberSquad," as they're called, has engaged over 20,000 kids in the Inland Empire with their message.

The CSUSB students on the CyberSquad conduct demonstrations and share what they're learning about technology and cybersecurity through projects that involve drone research, car hacking, Internet of Things toys, ethical hacking, open-source intelligence, and more.

Connecting with parents is just as important as talking to the kids.

"A lot of parents don't necessarily know how smart their kids are until they give them exposure to something that interests them," said Dr. Coulson. "Our slogan in the Cybersecurity Center is 'Where There is Interest, There is Learning.' We just have to find out what makes people tick."

Summer Camp and Apprenticeships Stir Up Interest in Cyber Careers

The methods that Dr. Coulson and his staff use to find out what makes people tick are revolutionary and grassroots at the same time. Things like summer camps and apprenticeships aren't new, but focusing them on cybersecurity is.

CSUSB began hosting GenCyber summer camps in 2015 in partnership with the Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio. This week-long free camp is an avenue for girls in middle and high school to find out if they have cyber interests by immersing them in topics such as drone security, forensics, and cyber hygiene.

Scouts can earn a cybersecurity badge, but the most significant impact of the experience is exposure to a whole new avenue of learning and a possible future career.

Apprenticeship programs hit cybersecurity education from another angle, providing a career progression that allows young people to get experience, a paycheck, and college credit at the same time. Apprenticeships haven't been a part of the traditional university experience, but it's a win for the students and the cooperating companies because they're nurturing the talent they need.

"Our latest programs are apprenticeships with employers where students can work and earn while they learn in a career progression. While they're working, they're actually earning course credit at Cal State San Bernardino for that work with the promise that after they've done two years of apprenticeship, then they have a career-oriented job at the end," explained Dr. Coulson.

Innovative Programs Launched Locally and Deployed Nationally

Apprenticeships are just a part of Dr. Coulson's vision for cybersecurity education pathways that go as far as each student wants to go -- from clubs, competitions, and camp in middle and high school, to community college and university degrees, through to a job that turns into a rewarding career.

The innovative programs that the CSUSB Cybersecurity Center has launched locally have provided models for nationwide deployment. In addition to Dr. Coulson's involvement with cybersecurity education on a national level, he frequently gets requests to share his knowledge, strategy, and tactics.

As word of the initiatives he and his staff have launched to educate and prepare people for cybersecurity careers spreads across the country, Dr. Coulson has turned his sights back to his local area with a game-changing idea for economic development. He thought -- why not invite more employers in this region to take advantage of the cybersecurity talent pool they're building right in the Inland Empire?

New Economic Development Initiative to Attract Cybersecurity Companies to the Inland Empire

That's how the Inland Empire Cybersecurity Initiative was born. This new program has just been launched to work with high schools and community colleges in the region to attract employers and get them involved in apprenticeships. It's an economic development double-edged strategy focused on retaining the talent trained here while attracting new businesses to locate in the Inland Empire.

There are so many programs and projects that Dr. Coulson and the Cybersecurity Center at CSUSB are involved with that it's taking some time for his new staff to wrap their arms around everything that's happening to generate interest in cybersecurity careers. Still, the danger that comes from not having skilled workers in cybersecurity seats cannot be ignored.

"We've got to throw everything we've got at this shortage to try and get people in," said Dr. Coulson.

Learn more about the Cybersecurity Center at Cal State University San Bernardino at:

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