A Cybersecurity Infrastructure and Security Agency (CISA) funded diversity program has expanded to 10 additional Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) after its initial launch last year, according to a Sept. 21 press release from CYBER.ORG.

Project REACH was created to recruit a diverse body of K-12 students to pursue undergraduate cybersecurity degrees and bolster the U.S. cybersecurity workforce. The pilot program initially launched in April of 2021 at Grambling State University – an HBCU in Louisiana.

CYBER.ORG – a workforce development organization funded by CISA – decided to expand the feeder program after seeing success in the program during its first year. The program pairs an HBCU student studying cybersecurity – or other forms of computer science – with a local K-12 student to act as their mentor. The younger student is then exposed to the endless possibilities of careers in cyber, as well as hands-on-learning with professionals at the campuses.

Additionally, Project REACH will provide teachers at the K-12 schools professional development resources as well as technology grants.

“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.

According to CYBER.ORG, less than half of all K-12 classrooms across the U.S. offer cybersecurity education, but there are currently over 700,000 open cybersecurity roles nationwide. Current administration has made clear the importance of closing this workforce gap, but also the necessity of recruiting younger people with diverse backgrounds.

“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,” Salvail said.

Students in small and high-poverty school districts are significantly less likely to be exposed to cybersecurity education, resulting in lower-income and minority students having significantly fewer pathways to entry into the field, according to CYBER.ORG.

“By integrating CYBER.ORG curricula within local high school course offerings and increasing interest in enrollment at the local HBCUs, the expanded feeder program will introduce more students to the possibility of cybersecurity careers,” the press release says.

Ten HBCUs will join Project REACH in improving cybersecurity literacy nationwide and proactively addressing the lack of diversity in the workforce:

  • Bowie State University in Maryland;
  • Claflin University in South Carolina;
  • Lane College in Tennessee;
  • Langston University in Oklahoma;
  • Lincoln University in Missouri;
  • Morgan State University in Maryland.;
  • Morris College in South Carolina;
  • Shaw University in North Carolina;
  • Stillman College in Alabama; and
  • Virginia State University in Virginia.

“As CYBER.ORG expands Project REACH, we are excited to join the initiative and help students learn how to create lasting careers in cybersecurity,” said Karina Liles, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science chair and associate professor at Claflin University. “Our faculty is proud to head up this program at Claflin University, which will be integral to bridging the diversity gap we continue to see in the industry.”

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