CISA, Dell and more partner for HBCU cybersecurity program

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and several top tech companies have joined forces with the National Cybersecurity Alliance nonprofit to create a new cybersecurity program at several historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Students from Prairie View A&M, Southern University, St. Philip’s College, Texas Southern University and more will have the chance to take part in the HBCU Career Program.

Dell Technologies, Proofpoint, Quanta Services and Trellix have already signed on to help the program equip students with the necessary skills to navigate the search process for positions in security, privacy and risk, while also helping to build a pipeline of Black professionals to fill the cyber workforce gap.

“For decades, we have relied on the same recruitment tactics to close the cybersecurity talent gap,” said Michael Alicea, chief human resources officer at Trellix. “Our lack of diversity is holding us back. The HBCU Career Program will open new pathways for those seeking purposeful careers and introduce fresh, diverse perspectives to the industry.”

As of April, there were about 715,000 unfilled cybersecurity roles in the U.S. and Black candidates represent just 9% of the workforce.

Adrian Jackson, director of communications at St. Philip's College in San Antonio, Texas, said the school has made several changes in recent years to adjust to the city’s ever-expanding cyber industry — which now includes public and private companies, and medical, military and government hubs.

On August 18, the school opened a new cyber facility to support the expansion of its degree and certificate programs in cybersecurity. The school is also in the process of getting approval for a Bachelor of Applied Technology (BAT) in Cybersecurity Engineering degree.

“Addressing a nationwide shortage of cybersecurity professionals is, for us, a hometown concern,” Jackson said, noting that the school is the only higher education institution in the country that is dually-designated as both an HBCU and Hispanic-Serving Institute (HSI). “The tools provided to our students through this partnership with National Cybersecurity Alliance are critical to building networks and increasing awareness of opportunities in cyber careers. This is an opportunity for students to look down the pathway toward their future and get a realistic view of what that looks like for them. This supports student success.”

The companies, schools and National Cybersecurity Alliance will work together on several initiatives, including networking opportunities, interview prep and more.

The National Cybersecurity Alliance will manage the mentoring programs, which will include trainings, tool implementations, one-on-one sessions and more.

Several in-person events will be held during the fall and spring semesters at the participating HBCUs that will feature guest speakers, panel discussions and recruiters. Students will be given detailed advice on specific cybersecurity career paths, what professional cybersecurity jobs will look like and specific guidance from recent HBCU graduates working in cybersecurity.

“For the cybersecurity industry to ever reach its full potential, the industry needs to find ways of bringing diverse talent into its pipeline,” said Lisa Plaggemier, executive director at the National Cybersecurity Alliance. “This program will tackle this long standing issue head on by building bridges between the industry and the untapped talent pools that exist at many HBCUs today.”

The non-profit organization has worked for years on creating stronger ties between government, industry and academia centered around cybersecurity. The organization helped create the Cybersecurity Awareness Month in October and other resources to help protect businesses from attacks.

Sharyl Givens, chief human resources officer at Proofpoint, said the diversity of its workforce has been the driving force behind much of its success and said the new program “stands to be a key initiative in helping our industry make key connections with the next generation of cyber talent.”

“The HBCU community is full of talented students that are interested in technology and cybersecurity and we can’t wait to kick-off the program this fall,” she said.

Dell Technologies vice president of cybersecurity Jason Rosselot echoed those remarks, noting that building a more diverse cybersecurity workforce is key to bringing new, innovative thinking into the industry and ultimately defending against cyberthreats.

“With the launch of the HBCU Career Program, we’re taking a meaningful step toward developing the diverse workforce of tomorrow while driving more excitement about careers in cybersecurity,” he said. 

HBCUs have traditionally done well in training students for engineering and sciences careers, according to LARES Consulting vice president Mark Arnold, who noted that cybersecurity courses have slowly made it into educational offerings at HBCUs.

He added that the NCA initiative will help accelerate the spread of cybersecurity and expand programs across more HBCUs "where a wealth of talent is waiting to be tapped."

"The importance of the announced partnership between the NCA and HBCUs cannot be underestated in the efforts toward building greater African-American representation in cybersecurity," Arnold said.

"The challenge of building a pipeline for underrepresented professionals has been impacted by a lack of availability and awareness of cybersecurity programs at HBCUs."

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Jonathan Greig

Jonathan Greig is a Breaking News Reporter at Recorded Future News. Jonathan has worked across the globe as a journalist since 2014. Before moving back to New York City, he worked for news outlets in South Africa, Jordan and Cambodia. He previously covered cybersecurity at ZDNet and TechRepublic.