More than 370,000 cyber jobs are currently open due to a lack of qualified workers for this field. Traditional education models have left students unprepared to succeed in the 21st century job market and a tech industry without a workforce from which to draw talent. Founded by a partnership between the City and Parish of Bossier in Louisiana, the Cyber Innovation Center’s (CIC) National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center (NICERC) is joining with schools and businesses to tackle the cyber skills gap in innovative ways.
Since 2008, CIC has worked to attract cyber tech jobs to Northwest Louisiana by developing the cyber skills training once missing from the local K–12 curricula. CIC began by providing cyber training to local students and sponsoring events, such as robotics competitions, but the organization mainly focuses on teacher development. CIC Vice President G.B. Cazes explains, “Teachers are the key to systematic and sustainable cyber education development in this country.” CIC’s philosophy revolves around the notion that by equipping teachers with the tools needed to better teach STEM subjects, a wider and more lasting impact can be made on students.
As CIC’s academic outreach and workforce development efforts grew successfully across the region, CIC established the National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center (NICERC) to increase its program offerings and to reach other communities across the nation. NICERC’s website provides free resources for teachers including curricula, Web apps, activities, and a best practices library.
Curricula are developed between the NICERC staff and education experts, but the team relies heavily on input and reviews from teachers. In-person training, taught by NICERC staff, is also available. The organization aims to cultivate a teaching environment that fosters the growth of both cyber and foundational business skills among youth.
Bossier Parish has seen tremendous gains in cyber education. Participating high schools have witnessed a 39% increase, on average, in the enrollment of students in postsecondary STEM programs, and nearby Louisiana Technology University recently became the first school in the country to offer a cyber engineering degree. The organization has subsequently partnered with several Fortune 150 companies to further its mission.
Together with Cisco, NICERC established a CISCO Networking Academy, which enables students to graduate from Bossier Parish Community College and Bossier Parish School for Technology & Innovative Learning with IT certifications. In addition, a partnership with local Girl Scout troops has yielded the first-ever cyber badge, designed to empower young girls to start their cyber education early and prepare for the jobs of the future.
Educators from 39 states currently access and contribute to NICERC’s database of shared best practices, and the group hopes to expand its subscription base to all 50 states.
NICERC’s curricula have also been used to influence the evolving standards of the Louisiana Department of Education and the establishment of a Cyber Engineering Pathway. The organization is working with other state departments of education and plans to continue to increase its programs, partnerships, and outreach. In September 2015, the group received a $3 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). After months of review, DHS saw the value in NICERC’s programs and committed to help its nationwide rollout.
One participating high school teacher sums up NICERC’s mission perfectly: “It is giving students something relevant, instead of standing up there and writing equations on the board and having them work problems. Their favorite question is: ‘Where will I use these lessons in real life?’ And then you show them!”