Clark State Community College is successfully addressing the statewide shortage of cybersecurity professionals. Through a National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education (ATE) grant, the Ohio community college offers enrolled high school students cybersecurity internships to develop their interest in the field.
The Cybersecurity Summer Internship Program is open to currently enrolled Clark State students as well as students from Central State University. The students form teams and are paired with a faculty extern who is a Clark State faculty member or local high school teacher. Together, they research and find a solution to a partner company’s cybersecurity problem.
Employers who are partnered with Clark State range from the national Fortune 500 company AT&T to the local United Way. Previously, students worked on VSAT Systems, a satellite uplink telecommunications system, to find ways to increase the security of the communications link.
Clark State offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in CyberSecurity/Information Assurance Technology, and the curriculum is helpful preparation for many industry certifications, such as CompTIA certifications (A+, Security+, Network+, etc.) and Cisco Certified Network Associate.
Clark State recruits interns through its Intro to Cybersecurity course, which is taught in several area high schools. In Ohio, the College Credit Plus program allows community colleges to train high school teachers and certify them to teach a college-level course for credit.
This summer, 11 of the 26 students who applied will earn $10 per hour as interns, working 32 hours a week alongside six faculty externs. Each week, the teams will spend three days at the employer site and one day at Clark State, where they will work on job training and skills as well as coursework in ethical hacking.
Students will also participate in a “hackfest,” during which they will determine how intruders access networks. The goal is for them to learn how to prevent hacking, said Cathy Balas, co-principal investigator on the ATE cybersecurity grant and Clark State adjunct faculty.
“As a society, we’re in the information age; everything we’re doing is tech-driven,” said Dan Heighton, professor for Clark State’s CyberSecurity/Information Assurance program and principal investigator of the ATE cybersecurity grant. “That technology has an impact on our life; it gathers data about who we are and what we do, and we need to be able to protect that data.”
Hackers have breached government employees’ personnel records, accessed credit card data at restaurants and retailers, and installed ransomware on hospital systems, keeping administrators from patient data until the ransom is paid.
Because of ongoing threats to data, cybersecurity education is likely to attract a broader spectrum of people outside of information technology, Balas said.
“Years ago, you thought cybersecurity was something only computer professions had to worry about,” she said.
Nearly all Clark State interns have secured jobs in the cybersecurity field, and the high school programs have boosted enrollment at the college.
Through exposure to partner companies’ cybersecurity challenges, faculty externs learn about new technologies and techniques and strengthen their skills. Faculty members, Balas said, are “not just receiving hands-on experience, but applying a theory and putting it to work on some real-world challenges.”