Enhancing cyber security workforce development and a path to an undergraduate degree are the dual missions of a new partnership between the University of West Florida and the National Security Agency.
UWF launched its Center for Cyber Security in 2014, says as a hub for research and opportunities for students to enter high-demand career fields.
“Nationally and locally there is a strong demand for certified cyber security experts,” said West Florida President Martha Saunders. “The number of cyber security job openings in Florida alone is estimated to be about 13,000. The number nationally is nearly 300,000.”
Under the agreement, active military students who complete the Joint Cyber Analysis Course will earn up to 30 credit hours toward a bachelor’s degree in computing and information sciences. There’s also a cybersecurity specialization or 15 credit hours toward an associate’s degree in general education.
“Cyber security experts predict there will be a global shortage of 3.5 million professionals by 2020,” Saunders said. “The shortage of cyber security professionals is alarming and we need to develop strategic partnerships to fill some of those openings.”
“When UWF was designated as a National Center for Academic Excellence by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, we took that designation to heart,” said Eman El-Sheikh, Director of UWF’s Center for Cyber Security.
UWF is one of only five colleges partnering with NSA to offer accelerated degrees. The others are Augusta, Dakota State, and Drexel Universities; and the University of Maryland.
“That part of our designation means to be able to advance and propel not just cyber security education, but also research and to lead ways of innovation that will help maintain the security, the resiliency and national leadership of our region and of our country.”
Several initiatives have kicked off at the Center since its designation two years ago, says El-Sheikh – such as enhancing curricula and program; expanding research and partnerships, and becoming the regional resource center for computer-aided engineering for the Southeast region.
“That kind of increased our mission and increased the responsibility that we have that not only do we want to help northwest Florida expand our cyber security initiative and build that innovation right here, we really want to collaborate across our Southeast region, and across the nation.
UWF officials were joined by Leonard Reinsfelder, Commandant of NSA’s National Cryptologic School, says it’s a time when NSA is fairly transparent about their mission, and why certain things are kept secret. His job is to make sure their people are the best they can be. The best of the best, says Reinsfelder, are in high demand nationwide.
“They can name their price,” Reinsfelder said. “And if you’re at a private company and you know someone has received the kind of experience and training that we have at our agency, you understand that they’re going to be highly sought after.”
As people leave that program for jobs in the private sector, Reinsfelder says his main concern is replacing them. That leads to NSA’s Centers for Academic Excellence Programs, of which West Florida is a participant.
“We have to set the standards to draw the students who are going to be able to fill those jobs as they go forward,” said Reinsfelder. “In addition, you’re also participating in a program that reaches down to the high schools, so that we get students interested and come to your program.”
Last year, more than 4,000 military students completed the six-month JCAC course. It’s divided into 10 modules and covers 25 topics, ranging from computer fundamentals to programming to forensics methodology and malware analysis.