North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis visited Fayetteville Technical Community College Wednesday to take a closer look at the programs, classes and partnerships under the campus’s Cyber Defense Education Center.
FTCC President Dr. J. Larry Keen and FTCC Senior Vice President for Academic & Student Services Dr. Mark Sorrells welcomed the six-year senator to the College, which is also recognized as a Department and Homeland Security and National Security Agency Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education.
The tour provided Tillis insight on FTCC’s collaborative work with partners such as the U.S. Army where the military branch’s research lab will provide artificial intelligence data labeling training to students. FTCC is also a member of the Carolina Cyber Network, a talent development partnership to close the workforce gap in the cyber field across the state.
Sorrells noted higher education institutions specialize in different areas of cybersecurity. At FTCC, students can enroll in the Security Systems & Analysis program while institutions across the state may focus on forensics. Tillis said he likes the collaboration between two and four-year institutions to fill the workforce gap in cybersecurity jobs.
“We see two-year and four-year colleges come together to synergistically offer different capabilities but combined, they’re much better than they’re individual programs,” he said. “You can have a two-year curriculum that can lead to a four-year degree. This collaboration… where they’re leveraging their knowledge, sharing infrastructure and virtualizing training? That’s leading edge.”
Others who joined Tillis on the tour included Executive Director of Carolina Cyber Center Adam Bricker, who also serves as an instructor at Montreat College in western North Carolina; RBX Solutions President and CEO David Thompson and Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Robert Van Geons.
The tour visited three classrooms inside the General Classroom Building where many Security Systems & Analysis and Transition Tech – a skills-training program for military service members preparing to transition to civilian life – courses are offered. Tillis watched instructors teach courses focused on CompTIA, Cisco and a security capstone project. He talked with students who are from Fayetteville, Alabama, Maine and the African nation Cameroon. One student, from Indiana, plans to stay in Fayetteville to pursue his career in cybersecurity.
Some of the students Tillis met are active military servicemembers; 25 percent of students currently enrolled in Security Systems & Analysis are active military and veterans, said Chris Herring, the program’s department chair.
“We have over 20,000 job openings now, and it’s great opportunity for young people, and people of all ages, to learn a skill that’s critically needed in North Carolina and the nation,” Tillis said. “We’re under constant threats, we get tens of millions of cyber-attacks every night, many of them defended, but the reality is the adversaries of transnational criminal organizations and others are trying to attack and degrade our capabilities. Programs like this are the best defense against future attacks.”
From 2018 to 2021 at FTCC, the Security Systems & Analysis program has grown from 95 degrees students to 178 currently. Online students increased from 57 to 105 The number of women enrolled in the program has nearly doubled – from 26 to 47, Herring said.
The program is offered under the Computer Information Technology Program overseen by Dean Tenette Prevatte.
Learn more about the Cyber Defense Education Center at FTCC here.