Can cyber fields become more diverse? Partners step up to support HBCUs

Nearly three dozen colleges and universities will benefit from a pair of initiatives designed to increase the number of Black workers in essential STEM jobs.

The overwhelming majority of cybersecurity analysts in the United States, around 72%, are White. With more than half million job openings in cyber fields, it makes sense that the pool be expanded and be far more inclusive. IBM has boldly been taking that next step.

The technology giant announced during the National HBCU Week Conference that it had sealed partnership agreements with 14 more Historically Black College and Universities in the creation of Cybersecurity Leadership Centers. Along with six other institutions announced earlier this year, the goal will be to develop a pipeline of future workers in this vital STEM field that is far more diverse.

“The Cybersecurity Leadership Centers we’re co-creating epitomize our commitment to the Black community and STEM education; it also builds on our pledge to train 150,000 people in cybersecurity over three years,” said Justina Nixon-Saintil, Vice President, IBM Corporate Social Responsibility and ESG.”

IBM’s initiative is one of two major national drives to get more Black students interested and pursuing careers in cybersecurity. The other one, launched by workforce development agency CYBER.ORG, will be infused into 11 HBCUs–including one that already had a test run at Grambling State University–that will effectively develop feeder programs with K-12 students. That program, Project Reach, is expanding courtesy of a grant from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

“This collaboration between universities and high schools will be critical to solving the cybersecurity workforce shortage and introducing students to cybersecurity careers at a young age,” said Laurie Salvail, Director of CYBER.ORG. “The pilot program at Grambling State University proved to be incredibly successful in partnering with local high schools, and we’re thrilled to be replicating this model to more HBCUs nationwide thanks to CISA.”

According to an EdWeek report, more than half of all K-12 schools in the U.S. do not provide courses in and around cybersecurity, and far fewer are in classrooms serving Black students. Project Reach will squarely deliver curricula and resources in schools to develop critical paths to careers. HBCUs also will benefit greatly from the partnership.

“This collaboration is essential to providing our students in underserved and military-connected communities with the opportunity to receive cybersecurity education and to explore a cybersecurity career pathway,” says Dr. Kevin Peters, Director of the Center for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Education at Morgan State University. “By partnering local high schools with HBCUs that have strong cybersecurity education offerings, we aim to provide our students with increased opportunities to pursue cybersecurity degrees.”

More from UB: How higher ed can pave the way for the future of the cybersecurity workforce

Morgan State joins Bowie State University as two from Maryland chosen for the project. Others include Claflin University and Morris College in South Carolina, Lane College in Tennessee, Langston University in Oklahoma, Lincoln University Missouri, Shaw University North Carolina, Stillman College in Alabama, and Virginia State University.

The IBM initiative is targeted at learning in higher education, providing specific curricula and experiential training for those who are studying cybersecurity at respective HBCUs. Part of that will include tabletop exercises on how to handle cyberattacks through IBM’s Security’s Command Center. In addition, IBM will share professional development training with faculty.

It is one of several developments launched from the tech company in partnership with HBCUs. In Sept 2020, it created the IBM-HBCU Quantum Center to improve STEM opportunities around quantum computing, and quickly had nearly two dozen colleges jump in. In May 2021, it increased the number of schools to 40 participating in its Global University Program, which aims to foster workforce skill building for students.

It has also been very public about the need for businesses and philanthropy to work with Black colleges and universities to build foundations for the future, releasing a paper titled “Investing in Black technical talent: The power of partnering with HBCUs.”

The cybersecurity effort is the latest example of rallying to help HBCUs. The group that will take part includes:

  • Alabama: Alabama A&M University, Talladega College, Tuskegee University
  • Florida: Edward Waters University, Florida A&M University
  • Georgia: Albany State University, Clark Atlanta University
  • Louisiana: Grambling State University, Southern University System, Xavier University
  • Maryland: Bowie State University, Morgan State University
  • Mississippi: Alcorn State University
  • North Carolina: North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina Central University
  • South Carolina: South Carolina State University, Voorhees University
  • Texas: Texas Southern University
  • Virginia: Norfolk State University
  • West Virginia: West Virginia State University
Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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