Two Northeast State students have been invited to attend the national Advanced Technical Education (ATE) Principal Investigators Conference this month.
Megan Buckles and Abigail Rasnick received two of a limited number of invitations sent to community college students nationwide to attend the conference held in Washington, D.C., Oct. 26-28. The annual conference is being held by the American Association of Community Colleges with the support of the National Science Foundation (NSF).
The two students are majors in the College’s computer science program. Rasnick had not decided on a major when she enrolled in Northeast State. After taking a few computer science courses she found her niche in cyber defense. She plans to graduate with an associate of applied science degree next spring.
“I’ve always liked technology,” said Rasnick, a second-year student at Northeast State. “I had taken a few courses in computer science when I learned about the cyber defense program, and I decided that sounded pretty cool.”
The NSF created the ATE program to improve educational opportunities for technicians in the technologically-driven STEM fields of the U.S. economy. The conference brings together more than 800 people from higher education, business and industry, as well as research and development centers to focus on the critical issues related to advanced technological education.
“This field has one of the greatest growing needs for professionals,” said Buckles, also a second-year student at Northeast State. “It is a field that not a lot of women go into so I saw a great opportunity to do it.”
A Tennessee Reconnect student, Buckles is pursuing associate of applied science degrees in both the cyber defense and networking programs. Buckles majored in graphic design at a four-year institution before enrolling at Northeast State. She said her creative background gave her an edge in picking up the cyber defense skill set.
“Cyber defense offers a great challenge to creative thinkers capable of filling the gaps that open in cyber networks,” said Buckles. “You need to come into this discipline with an open mind.”
The Computer Science department offers a cyber defense program focused 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. A cyber defense professional can earn numerous certifications to expand his or her expertise in cybersecurity.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment opportunities for cyber defense analysts to grow 18 percent through 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. For professionals working in computer systems design and related services, employment is predicted to grow by 36 percent.
“It is a great career for women and minorities,” said Buckles. “Companies are looking to become more diverse and need a great diversity of thought in how they secure their networks.”
The changing landscape of technology and communication makes cyber defense a necessity for businesses and individuals. Cyber defense students understand the demands and expectations of their future profession. But as Rasnick said, the profession’s edginess also was quite appealing.
“You feel cool,” said Rasnick. “You feel like you are hacking into the system in some ways.”