by Andrew Edwards
In response to a growing number of cyberattacks on government and private interests, Whatcom Community College was recently awarded a grant of almost $500,000 to further develop cybersecurity research and education.
“There’s a huge demand for people that can do computer security,” said Corinne Sande, the coordinator of Whatcom’s Computer Information Systems (CIS) Program. “The government needs people; private companies need people.”
Whatcom’s CIS program has been recognized as a Center of Academic Excellence by both the National Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security. “The prime reason that we got the grant is because we have these programs that meet national standards,” Sande said.
The grant will allow Whatcom to work in partnership with Western Washington University and Bellingham Technical College to develop a new path to a four-year degree in cyber security, Sande said. Whatcom will offer a new associate’s degree in cybersecurity and these students will be able to transfer directly into a new Computer and Information Systems Security (CISS) degree program that will be offered at Western, she said.
While these programs are not available yet, they are “generating a lot of excitement,” Sande said.
“We’re hopeful that Western and Whatcom’s pieces will be approved by March,” said Janice Walker, Whatcom’s Workforce Education director. She added that CIS credits earned at Whatcom will later be transferrable to a similar program to be offered at the University of Washington as part of the same initiative.
Sande has worked in the field of Computer Information Systems for 20 years and has been at Whatcom since 1999. She said she introduced the first cybersecurity class in 2000, because “after 9/11 there was more interest in colleges [to teach cybersecurity].”
The partnership between Western and Whatcom will provide students with a unique experience, Sande said, since they will be able to get practical cyberdefense experience at the community college level before advancing to more theoretical subjects at the university.
“Our classes are all hands-on,” Sande said of Whatcom’s CIS program. “The people doing these jobs have to have applied skills. They have to be able to do the job, not just talk about the job.”
The grant will allow Whatcom to expand its current curriculum and offer more specialized classes. Next quarter, for example, Sande will teach a new course in industrial systems security. This class will show students how to protect automated systems, since “all of these things are hackable,” she said.
“Basically I’m taking what’s happening nationwide and incorporating it into our curriculum,” Sande said.