Northeast State lands $190,000 NSF grant

The National Science Foundation recently awarded Northeast State a $190,000 grant to recruit high school students and prepare them for careers in cybersecurity.

The two-year project will combine technical, entrepreneurial, and soft skills training to produce well-round professionals who can not only solve technological issues, but also work well with individuals and teams to identify and fix problems.

“Our goal is to help students become problem solvers who can research, document, and find cyber defense solutions,” said Allan Anderson, Associate Professor of Computer and Information Sciences of the Business Technologies Division. “In addition, we want to teach them how to communicate with end users and train them about best practices,”

Anderson is the project’s principal investigator and he will be assisted by Dr. Carol Cole, co-principal investigator and professor of Management at the College.

“We’re attempting weave all this training together so students have a combination of skills,” Cole said. “This way students are more marketable to employers and have a greater chance of success. The entrepreneurial and soft skills are great assets in any job.”

Demand for cybersecurity technicians is expected to be very high. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of information security analysts is projected to grow 18 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. For those working in computer systems design and related services, employment is predicted to grow 36 percent.

Cyber DefenseAnderson said the project will combine skill sets by modifying existing courses, developing new courses, and bringing in industry experts as guest lecturers.

In addition, the project will also build on partnerships at local high schools with faculty visits to high school guidance counselors, teachers, and prospective students. The grant will also aid with sponsorships of high school career days and marketing efforts to highlight the need for cybersecurity professionals.

The College’s Computer Science program offers a Cyber Defense concentration. It focuses on topics in cybersecurity and digital forensics. Students learn how to fortify computer networks to halt security breaches and how to recover digital data and evidence.
Anderson and Cole said the grant will also mesh with a current NSF collaboration with Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College to improve technician training and increase the number of skilled workers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers.

That effort – funded by a $58,000 grant – serves undergraduate students, pre-college students, college faculty, and high school educators over a three-year period.

“We’re appreciative of the NSF for funding efforts at two-year colleges,” Anderson said. “This lets us try new things, learn from our successes and failures, and better prepare our students to compete in the workplace.”

For more information about the grant or the Cyber Defense concentration, contact Anderson at aranderson@NortheastState.edu.

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