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UWF Cybersecurity awarded $2.5 million to expand the program to women, minorities, and more

The UWF Center for Cybersecurity is a cutting-edge site that supports full-spectrum cyber operations including detection, incident response, protection, recovery and investigation using hands-on, scenario-based training. Located in the Studer Community Institute in downtown Pensacola, the Center for Cybersecurity's location positions the Center to conduct innovative teaching, research and training for students, professionals and state agency personnel.
Bernard Leonard Wilchusky Jr.
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UWF
The UWF Center for Cybersecurity is a cutting-edge site that supports full-spectrum cyber operations including detection, incident response, protection, recovery and investigation using hands-on, scenario-based training. Located in the Studer Community Institute in downtown Pensacola, the Center for Cybersecurity's location positions the Center to conduct innovative teaching, research and training for students, professionals and state agency personnel.

Since the CyberSkills2Work program was launched in 2020, it has trained over 1,700 veterans and first responders for cyber security jobs. Thanks to a $2.5 million grant, the program will train more than 1,500 more people and expand its eligibility to include military spouses, women, underrepresented minorities, and government personnel.

“We really hope to shrink that workforce gap in cybersecurity and help our national security,” said Dr. Eman El-Sheikh, associate vice president for the UWF Center for Cybersecurity. “We have pathways that start at entry level, where all you need to start is familiarity with a computer and with technology. And we provide everything needed to kind of get into an entry-level cybersecurity role. But we also have intermediate training for intermediate and advanced roles, as well.”

The grant money was awarded last month after a White House roundtable discussionabout cyber skills development in Chicago. Funding comes from the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity Program at the National Security Agency. UWF leads the National Cybersecurity Workforce Development Program, also known as CyberSkills2Work.

The roundtable also mentioned the first National Cyber and Workforce Education Strategy to enhance and expand the cyber workforce through education.

“And they highlighted the CyberSkills2Work as a model for how to provide more opportunities for veterans to train and get into cybersecurity,” added El-Sheikh who also encouraged employers to connect the program.

Cyber security jobs are not only in high demand, but they’re generally higher salaries. According to the employment website ZipRecruiter, the average cyber security salary in Florida is over $70,000.

Dr. Eman El-Sheikh
Dr. Eman El-Sheikh
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UWF
Eman El-Sheikh

Across the country, there are more than 600,000 vacant cybersecurity jobs, explained El-Sheikh. When CyberSkills2Work was launched, the focus was on military and first responders because of the high concentration of veterans in the panhandle.

“The most rewarding aspect of this is just to know how it does transform people's lives or give them kind of the stepping stone to the next chapter,” she said.

Justin Rhoads, a Coast Guard veteran, was working in automation when he started training in cyber security in 2021.

“I was looking to redirect my career,” he said.

Changing careers in his 30s took a leap of faith, Rhoads said. In the end, he’s glad he made the move.

“You can do it,” he said. “I’m a testament to that. I don’t have a four-year degree. I was in the program with people who had master’s degrees from MIT — I got the same opportunity regardless.”

Rhoads said his training was intense and mirrored his military training in that it packed a lot of information in a short timeframe. His initial training program was about six months. Now, he’s in a job where he feels he’s making a difference.

“It’s fulfilling,” he said. “What I do protects central infrastructure.”

While the cyber security industry is facing a talent shortage, it’s also lacking diversity. According to a 2021 report from the Aspen Tech Policy Hub, only 9% of cybersecurity experts are Black. About 8% are Asian and 4% are Hispanic. Women are also underrepresented in the field. Certifications can cost hundreds of dollars. With CyberSkills2Work, the training is free.

With the $2.5 million grant, more people will be able to take advantage of the program. There will also be 22 additional pathways into specific cybersecurity careers as well as 17 industry certifications. El-Sheikh points out that the industry has room for everyone no matter their career background.

“Cybersecurity is very multidisciplinary,” she said. “While there are some jobs that require coding or technical experience, there are also jobs that focus on cyber policy or cyber management, or, cyber forensics and intelligence analysis that require different backgrounds. There’s a lot of variety. The cyber jobs are still out there and still needed, and you really can't beat the mission, because you're helping, on one level, your organization and your community, and on another level, you're also helping our country with national security by protecting our information and our infrastructure.”

 

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.