Spokane Journal of Business

INW colleges focus on cybersecurity education

1 in 4 jobs in the field said to be unfilled here

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For every three cybersecurity professionals working in the Spokane and Spokane Valley metro area, there is one additional job opening, according to CyberSeek, a U.S.-based platform providing insight into the national and local cybersecurity job markets.

That’s no surprise to Stu Steiner, assistant professor in computer science at Easter Washington University.

“There is a critical shortage of professionals with cybersecurity skills,” Steiner says.

In recent months, several Inland Northwest colleges have stepped up their cybersecurity offerings.

In September, EWU was designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency, says Steiner. So far, EWU and Spokane Falls Community College are the first Washington state schools serving the Spokane-area to receive this certification.

Steiner says the designation benefits both EWU and the students who are able to show potential employers that they graduated from a CAE-designated school.

In order to become a CAE school, an institution must adhere to certain guidelines laid out by the NSA.

“It’s a very rigorous program that you have to go through,” says Steiner. “It’s very meticulous. You have to prove that your students are able to apply this cybersecurity knowledge by meeting all these outcomes in the classroom and the real world.”

One program the university offers is its bachelor’s degree in computer science with a minor in cybersecurity, he says. The first cohort of cybersecurity students in that program graduated in 2018.

EWU began its cybersecurity program with four graduates, he says. It’s on track to graduate 50 students this year.

Steiner says roughly 40% of EWU’s cybersecurity students are “Spokane-bound,” while the other 60% leave the area.

“There’s a demand in Spokane,” for cybersecurity workers, he says. “It’s not a huge demand, but as Spokane grows, we’re getting more cybersecurity jobs.”

Locally, cybersecurity graduates work for a variety of organizations, including government entities, such as the city of Spokane; companies like Avista Corp.; or Spokane Valley-based Intrinium Inc.; or financial institutions, including STCU and Washington Trust Bank, says Steiner.

According to American employment marketplace ZipRecruiter, the average annual pay for an entry level cybersecurity job in Spokane is over $71,000.

There were just under 300 job openings and nearly 900 employed workers in the field in the Spokane area as of Nov. 7, according to CyberSeek. Statewide, nearly 10,000 cybersecurity positions were vacant, with 24,200 cybersecurity positions filled. Nationwide, those figures were 464,400 and 956,300, respectively.

Looking forward, Steiner sees a few possibilities happening in Spokane’s cybersecurity sector.

For example, he says, there may be a big push for more cybersecurity education and training within many existing organizations.

Additionally, he predicts that hiring cybersecurity workers will be as commonplace as hiring computer science personnel is now.

Along with EWU and SFCC, other colleges have ramped up their cybersecurity education recently.

Washington State University has been chosen for a $1.5 million grant from the Department of Defense to form The Northwest Virtual Institute for Cybersecurity Education and Research program, says Bernie Van Wie, professor in chemical engineering and principal investigator for the CySER program.

Van Wie says the multi-institutional program establishes a research and teaching center based at WSU’s Pullman campus.

With a strong military focus, the new program educates ROTC cadets and Department of Defense civilian workers in the computer science field. The program offers both bachelor’s degrees and specialized certificates, he says.

“We want to train the next generation of cybersecurity experts who, especially in this program, will be able to work with military and military support operations,” says Van Wie.

More widely, the program also seeks to “assist across all sectors of the industrial economy where cybersecurity is important,” he says.

Van Wie adds that the CySER program involves several other colleges, including Central Washington University, in Ellensburg, Washington; Columbia Basin College, in Pasco, Washington; Montana State University, in Bozeman Montana; and University of Idaho, in Moscow, Idaho.

Between all those schools, the program supports 33 student positions this year, says Van Wie. Not all of those positions are filled yet.

Although the CySER program is funneled through military channels, the program itself is much broader than that, he says.

“People who get trained by this can go into so many areas,” he says. “It all affects national security if we have problems with our infrastructure, power, fuel, telecommunications. Any of that affects both civilians and national defense.”

Van Wie says a goal is to gain a CAE designation for the school, which is looking to apply for that certification within two years.

In Idaho, Coeur d’Alene-based North Idaho College and the University of Idaho are both CAE schools, according to San Bernardino, California-based CAE in Cybersecurity Community.

Terence Soule, chair and professor with the University of Idaho’s department of computer science, says the college has had the CAE designation for several years, but it just started offering a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity last fall. This fall, it also launched its two-year master’s degree program in cybersecurity.

Soule claims the University of Idaho’s cybersecurity program is more technically oriented than at some other colleges.

“It’s based on two principles,” he says. “One is teaching students the foundations. The other is giving students hands-on experience and practice.”

Students at the University of Idaho might also focus more on future cybersecurity problems, he says.

“We are trying to prepare students to solve problems we will see in five, 10, or 15 years down the road,” he says.

The degree program’s first cohort consists of 45 students, a much larger figure than initially anticipated, says Soule.

He expects the program will expand to between 80 and 90 students within the next four years.

Soule points to high enrollment figures as a further indication of high demand for cybersecurity workers and student interest in the profession.

“There’s been a lot of interest and a lot more demand,” he says. “In terms of enrollment, having 45 students in a year is more demand than we typically see for a new program and more than we expected. We were expecting an incoming class of about 20 students.”

University of Idaho also entered into a $2.5 million partnership with Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories Inc. in April 2020, according to a press release from the university.

The five-year agreement will support the university’s cybersecurity program through research projects and student assistance, the release says.

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Samantha Peone
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Reporter Samantha Peone joined the Journal in 2015 as research coordinator before later transitioning into a reporter role. She covers real estate and construction.

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