NMU creates cyber hubs

NMU+creates+cyber+hubs

Isabelle Tavares

There are about 75,000 open cybersecurity jobs in Michigan and about 300,000 nationwide, which is expected to quadruple in the next few years. NMU is on track to provide the necessary training to fill some of those openings, following Gov. Rick Snyder’s announcement last week that the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and the Merit Network awarded NMU the designation of a cyber hub to further Michigan’s investment in cybersecurity protection.

“This next installment in the Michigan Cyber Range continues the development of a robust statewide cybersecurity community,” Snyder said in an email statement. “These regional cyber hubs position Michigan to be a leader in driving the next generation of cybersecurity protections and training a workforce able to support cyber initiatives across many industries.”

Northern currently has access to a cyber range, which is a secure internet separate from regular internet, Steve VandenAvond, vice president for extended learning and community engagement. The university will also offer an educational cyber range hub that is staffed by teachers where people can get industry certifications through completion of the NMU curriculum. Most credentials offered are recognized by industry giants like IBM, CISCO, the Merit Network and Amazon, VandenAvond said. He hopes to have “a whole menu for students to choose” where or who they want to work with.

“It’s not like a shooting range where you can go, but we’ll have educational experiences surrounding people playing with networks and cybersecurity,” VandenAvond said. “If a high school or university student, post-grad or adult without a degree wants to get training in cybersecurity, they’ll be able to get industry certifications.”

Jim Marquardson, assistant professor of information assurance & cyber defense is focused on teaching and helping NMU students by increasing resources to improve the cyber lab.

NMU built a cyber lab in the Lydia Olson Library in room 229 five years ago. Although the lab was equipped with hardware, it lacked key technology such as Firewall, Marquardson said. NMU tries to include as much hands-on training as possible, he said, with a big emphasis on hands-on teaching skills, not just reading from textbooks.

“We want to employ students to create content and contribute to the curriculum,” Marquardson said. “We even have NMU students who are reaching out to local high school students to teach them the fundamentals.”

VandenAvond said high school students have already expressed interest in the hub. In a recent high school cybersecurity challenge summit in Detroit, Marquette Senior High School placed second in the state among 235 Michigan schools. The U.P. has 3 percent of the state’s population, but 30 percent of the winning high schools’ cybersecurity challenge, VandenAvond said. High school students may get part-time jobs upon graduation and continue to gain certifications through the program at NMU.

“It’s pretty impressive. The data that we collected suggests that with these certifications and a bachelor’s degree, you start out at $70,000, which I think is a pretty respectable salary,” VandenAvond said. “We think it’s a nice vehicle for students to defray the cost of higher education instead of working a minimum wage job.”

Most certifications require 40 hours to complete, he said. University organizers wish to integrate the hub certifications with the cybersecurity program on campus so students can work toward certifications during the course of their program.

VandenAvond said the college of business is working to create consistency between offerings in the hub with what is offered in the course, as hub certifications are not credit contingent, but solely for industry certifications.

“[Students] won’t just have an idea of the way things work, they will hit the ground running and be prepared to make a difference,” Marquarson said.

The hub will offer two key introductory cybersecurity courses this winter, CIS 226 and CIS 100.

“CIS 100 is a good course for students who aren’t sure and helps them get their feet wet,” Marquardson said. “I’m excited to see how this will all play out—it’s good to get recognized, and a lot of people are working hard to see that this is successful.”

VandenAvond said Snyder was interested in expanding hubs across Michigan, the U.P. in particular, before the cyber summit.

“He knows of the innovative things that go on in the university and he knows the people of the U.P. are pretty hearty and once they set their mind to something, they do it,” VandenAvond said.

The cyber hub is a way for people to be employed and stay in the desirable landscape of the U.P., VandenAvond said, as brain drain has been a problem when “such talented students” pursue jobs elsewhere.

“A lot of students at NMU fall in love with Marquette and want to stay, but the U.P. only has a certain number of jobs that can support Northern graduates,” he said. “You can be a cybersecurity employee and work remotely, because who doesn’t want to live here.”

University organizers are still considering a few locations on campus, deciding the curriculum, teaching and managerial staff. They hope to have offerings and people working in the hub not long after the new year.