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How Cabrillo College Students are Becoming (and Growing) the Next Generation of Cyber Security Professionals

By Kate Rose
Special Contributor, Cabrillo College
Special for Santa Cruz Tech Beat

October 22, 2019 — Aptos, CA

(Photo above: Cabrillo College students Brad Bettencourt and Janelly Servin present their latest cybersecurity projects to community members and employers at the Computer Informations System Open House event. Contributed.)

October is officially “Cybersecurity Awareness Month.” While staying safe and secure online remains an ever-present concern for businesses and government agencies alike — Cabrillo College sees cybersecurity as a prime educational opportunity for college, high school, and middle schoolers alike.

Cabrillo students in the Computer Information Systems (CIS) program are mastering new technical skills for their careers and cultivating the next generation of cybersecurity professionals through a series of middle school and high school competitions.

“Cybersecurity is as important as teaching kids to look both ways before they cross the street, says Department Chair, Irvin Lemus. “We live in a digital world now, so we need to be digitally secure.”

Cabrillo is home to numerous cybersecurity competitions for middle, high school, and college students throughout the San Francisco and Monterey Bay regions. As part of their curriculum, Cabrillo CIS students are responsible for designing cybersecurity challenges where younger students compete against one another and receive awards. The challenges were showcased at an Open House on campus, demonstrating how the department is growing skills across all age groups in California, as well as Florida, where the competitions take place.

“I first got interested in cybersecurity because I participated in a competition hosted by the Cabrillo team,” says CIS freshman, Brandon Pimentel. “Then, I started taking Ethical Hacking and Cybersecurity Basics as a high school student. Now I’m a full-time CIS student, apprenticing under a Cybersecurity Ph.D.”

Pimentel was one of eight students showcasing their technical prowess at the Open House to employers and community members. Representatives from Graniterock, Looker, and Cloud Brigade were among the attendees who came to see Cabrillo’s latest cybersecurity projects.

“Early on in the Department, we got feedback from employers that our graduates were hard workers, but they needed to be re-trained on certain skills as the industry evolved. The Open House gives us a way to get feedback from a quickly moving field so that our students can prepare for the workforce.”

Following the demos, students, faculty, and employers discussed the latest trends in cybersecurity, including Zero Trust networks, the open-source system Kubernetes, nuances of cloud computing, and how IT is moving towards vendor management.

“A lot of small business owners are not thinking about cybersecurity, but often they are the ones most frequently targeted,” says CIS student, George Nuñez. “At the Open House, we demoed a physical trojan device that I can ship to a company inside any object to infiltrate their system and gain access over their administrator levels. We do this to show business owners how they could be victims of malicious activity,” he said.

Bryan Zimmer was a student at Cabrillo College before going on to CSU Monterey Bay and launching a career in cybersecurity. He returned to campus on the employer side for the Open House, bringing his perspective as Head of Security for Humu, an HR startup that uses machine learning to drive behavioral change. Bryan’s career has spanned a variety of IT and security positions, including at the Department of Defense and Netflix.

“I got into cybersecurity because I liked problem-solving. It’s always changing, and there’s always something new to learn. Cabrillo has a good program, and it’s great to see how the students are getting ready for the industry,” Zimmer shared.

“People are beginning to realize that their data is everywhere, and a lot of companies have very sensitive data on you without your permission. It’s important we put pressure on companies to be good stewards of their data. To do that, companies will need IT, security, programmers, and the whole company to get behind the initiative to improve cybersecurity,” he said.

The Open House was just a glimpse into what the Computer Information Systems program offers. In addition to a Cybersecurity Fundamentals Certificate, students learn everything from software, networking, telecommunications, programming, and information systems so that they can qualify for IT jobs in a rapidly growing sector. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded a median annual wage for CIS managers at $142,530 in May 2018.

“One of the big things I’ve taken away from the program so far is all the ways I can plug in to the field,” says Pimentel, “I could be the Chief Information Security Officer or own a company — I hadn’t even thought about that before.”

“I’m currently working on starting my own business to help small businesses that don’t have an IT staff with cybersecurity.” says Nunez, “In the long term, my goal is to work for the FBI in their cybersecurity division.”

As business grows and increasingly converts to digital platforms, more skilled talent will be needed to help keep our data secure. Cabrillo College is doing more than their fair share to prepare that workforce.

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