The National Security Agency and U.S. Department of Homeland Security designated Cypress College a National Center of Academic Excellence (CAE) in Cyber Defense Two-Year Education this past August. Cypress College was one of two community colleges in California to earn the designation, and one of 10 college or university programs in the Southwest region of the U.S., including California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah.
The designation is valid through academic year 2023 and was given following a rigorous application process that required meeting stringent criteria and a campus visit.
“This is, indeed, a true honor for the college,” said Cypress College President JoAnna Schilling, Ph.D. “I thank the faculty and dean for their countless hours, days, weeks, and months of preparing our proposal and backing it up with a commitment to excellence and student success. Kudos to faculty members Ben Izadi, Mike Hannah, and Dean Henry Hua for their work qualifying for this prestigious designation.”
Official award of the designation will be made next month at a conference in Miami.
The strong push for education in cyber defense and cybersecurity in the U.S. reflects the country’s immediate priority and high demand for an experienced and qualified workforce full of innovative, critical thinkers. National CAE programs aim to address the country’s “critical shortage of professionals with these skills and highlights the importance of higher education as a solution to defending America’s cyberspace.”
Karen Leuschner, National CAE Cyber Defense Program director, continued in her designation letter to the college, “Your ability to meet the increasing demands of the program criteria will serve the nation well in contributing to the protection of the National Information Structure.”
In 2017, Cypress College started a Pathway to Advancement in Cybersecurity Education (PACE) program, which is modeled on Guided Pathways. PACE introduces students to dual enrollment courses from as early as the tenth grade and provides them with multiple opportunities to receive certifications and even an associate degree in cybersecurity.
“The results have been promising, as 216 middle and high school students have taken cybersecurity-related dual enrollment courses within the past year and successfully obtained 73 industry-recognized certificates,” said Ben Izadi, director of the college’s Cyber Defense Center and lead for the Cybersecurity Program.
He added that 14 high school students will be completing the cybersecurity certificate this fall, and three will also complete the cyber defense certificate.
In addition to PACE and providing area high school students with dual enrollment courses in cybersecurity, Cypress College has also worked in other ways to open cybersecurity education opportunities for K-12 Orange County students. For the past three years, current and former Cypress College students have mentored middle and high school students to compete in the CyberPatriots National Youth Cyber Defense Competition, a cybersecurity contest hosted by the non-profit Air Force Association.
Last year, one of the college’s middle school teams ranked tenth in the nation among 1,200 teams. This semester, more than 200 students participated in an on-campus training event, including more than 40 elementary school students, in a program that has seen tremendous growth since its inception in 2016.