As cybersecurity becomes an increasing concern for governments, institutions, and companies in every industry, the growing need for workers in this field in critical.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of workers within the cybersecurity sector is expected to increase by 31 percent between 2019 and 2029 – a rate far higher than average for all occupations.

To provide learning to high school students and increase awareness of job opportunities in this area, Northampton Community College (NCC) offered a five-day cybersecurity technology camp from June 21-25 at its Bethlehem Campus. The camp is part of the college’s “Building a Culturally Responsive Degree Program in Information Security” initiative, funded by a $299,336 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The grant is intended to enhance NCC’s Information Security program curriculum and to recruit, retain and graduate underrepresented students into the cybersecurity field. The goal of the camp is to attract students who are underrepresented in the field, including girls and minorities.

“This grant is so important because it enables us to let these groups understand there is a place for them in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs at NCC and then in the workforce,” said Dr. Denise Francois-Seeney, Dean of Business and Industry.

Cybersecurity is just one area of STEM that suffers from a lack of diversity among employees, explained Brian Stokes, Associate Professor, Computer Science.

While women hold about half of all STEM jobs nationwide, they are concentrated in the healthcare field. Since 1990, the percentage of women in computer occupations has decreased by 9 percent, Stokes said. African Americans represent just 9 percent of all STEM employees and Hispanics 7 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.

“It’s a problem across the board,” Francois-Seeney said. “NCC is no different from the national data when it comes to women and underrepresented groups in these fields.”

The camp, organized in collaboration with NCC’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, introduced students to the field of cybersecurity and gave them the opportunity to consider it as a career. Too often, according to Francois-Seeney, girls and students of color are not steered toward STEM careers, particularly those that are computer related.

“There’s still a weeding out of these types of students,” she said.

Students attending the camp learned the basics of scripting and networking fundamentals and participated in hands-on activities with drones and bots. NCC faculty and industry experts provided instruction and mentorship to campers.

“Our hope is that the camp will let underrepresented kid learn more about STEM and the types of jobs that are available to them with the right education and training,” Stokes said.

Moriah Finken, Computer Science and Information Technology Program Coordinator, said NCC also has been working with area school districts, Boys and Girls clubs, the YWCA and other organizations to make students aware of opportunities within the STEM field, particularly in cybersecurity. The college has established a cybersecurity advisory board that includes representatives of major, area companies and organizations, and started a professional mentoring program that teams members of the advisory board with cybersecurity students.

The goal, she said, is to work with area employers to understand their needs and prepare NCC students to fill those jobs.  

Entry-level jobs within the cybersecurity field may be available to graduates of a two-year program, like that offered at NCC, Stokes explained.

“It’s enough to get students started and then they can learn on the job,” he said.

The college is working hard to let underrepresented students know that cybersecurity jobs are available and attainable.

“We really want women and minority students to know this is a viable, high-paying, high-occupational field with an associate or a bachelor’s degree,” said Francois-Seeney.

The cost for the summer camp was $15, but fee waivers were available. More information about next year’s camp is available by emailing Finken at mfinken@northampton.edu or Stokes at bstokes@northampton.edu. A camp brochure can be accessed in English at http://bit.ly/ncccybercamp and Spanish at http://bit.ly/ncccybercampsp.

For adults, NCC offers an AAS degree in Information Security through the college’s Center for Cybersecurity Education and Training. CyberSecurity Training Certifications through NCC’s Center for Business and Industry are also offered.

NCC’s Cybersecurity Summer Camp