Jackie Armstrong

Computer science instructor Jackie Armstrong works with students during an information technology security class, a three-hour credit course in the networking cybersecurity program, at the Hill County Campus.

Hill College’s networking cybersecurity program can equip students in as little as two years with the skills and knowledge needed to become highly qualified cybersecurity professionals — a profession with increasing career potential for current middle and high school students.

More than 46,000 online job listings for cybersecurity-related positions in Texas alone were reported on CyberSeek.org from June 2019 through May 2020, half of which were available in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metro area. Nationwide, that number was over 500,000 — a number Hill College computer science instructor Jackie Armstrong said will likely grow because of the changing landscape of the industry and increase in cyber threats.

“Doing business in 2020 and beyond will be different,” Armstrong said. “Additional flexibility in the workplace, such as work hours and work-from-home options, will also alter tools we use to conduct business, putting more emphasis on mobility and security.”

To reduce vulnerability in the national information infrastructure, the National Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security established the National Centers for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education program, which recognizes colleges and universities that meet stringent criteria in their cybersecurity-related programs.

Hill College’s Associate of Applied Science in Computer Science, Networking Cybersecurity program received the prestigious designation last year after a rigorous application process, making the program a top choice for students who want to succeed in the cybersecurity workforce.

“Our program curriculum is aligned with specified Knowledge Units and the NICE Cybersecurity Workforce Framework, which are nationally utilized among industry workers, educational programs and government organizations,” Armstrong said. “This ensures students completing our program will obtain the exact skill set needed to be immediately employed in today’s cybersecurity workforce.”

Through Hill College’s program, students can obtain in-demand skills including computer forensics, consumer electronics, system administration, Cisco, UNIX, network engineering, network and information security, and security operations, to name a few. And employers are paying high dollar for skilled professionals with salaries beginning around $85,000 for entry-level positions such as cybersecurity specialist, cyber-crime investigator, incident analyst, and IT auditor, according to CyberSeek.org.

Armstrong said a career in cybersecurity might be a good option for students who are interested in computers, video games, programming and writing code to consider and encourages students to take a look at Start Engineering’s resources at start-engineering.com/cybersecurity-career-guide.

“Between resources such as this guide, competitions and government sponsored cyber camps for K-12 students and faculty, our young people are learning more and more about cybersecurity opportunities,” she said. “Working with our public schools is of the utmost importance for us going forward.”

The Networking Cybersecurity AAS degree also prepares students to complete nationally recognized industry certification exams such as Microsoft’s networking administration, Linux, CompTIA’s A+, Security+, Network+, and wireless security certifications, which are also required for many entry-level cybersecurity jobs.

“Through our university partners, especially the CAE-designated partners, our students will be able to easily continue their formal education,” Armstrong said.

The CAE-CDE designation also provides Hill College students with increased opportunities for scholarships and grants through the Department of Defense Cyber Scholarship Program and the Federal Cyber Service Scholarship for Service Program.

Skill development and retraining opportunities also exist for individuals already spending time on cybersecurity activities in the workforce. Career areas that are common stepping stones into the cybersecurity field include networking, software development, systems engineering, financial and risk analysis, and security intelligence.

The Networking Cybersecurity AAS education plan is part of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics pathway at Hill College. The degree is a total of 60 credit hours and includes an 18-credit hour technical core certificate of completion, a 27-credit hour networking cybersecurity certificate of technology, and only an additional 15-credit hours for the full AAS degree. Students who need the flexibility have the option to complete the program online.

“The Cybersecurity certifications and degree are stackable,” said Armstrong. “In other words, students begin with the Technical Core certificate and continue building with the Certificate of Technology in Cybersecurity. The AAS satisfies the college core requirements of all associate degree plans. The more training, the more job opportunities students will have.”

Registration for the Spring 2021 semester opens Thursday, and classes begin Jan. 19. To register for the program, contact the academic advising office at 254-659-7650 or email advising@hillcollege.edu. For information about the program visit hillcollege.edu/CD/Cyber.html or contact Armstrong at 254-659-7950 or jarmstrong@hillcollege.edu.

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