Forget Superman and Wonder Woman. In today’s digital world, cybersecurity experts are the real superheroes – and Grand Rapids Community College is where they go to train.
With nearly 850,000 cybercrimes reported to the FBI in 2021, and losses surpassing $6.9 billion, the need for enhanced cybersecurity is greater than ever before in the United States, experts say. But demand nationwide continues to outpace a growing cybersecurity workforce: In Michigan, an estimated 16,397 industry jobs were unfilled through April, including more than 1,369 in the Grand Rapids area, according to cyberseek.org.
It’s that promise of a good career that prompted 34-year-old Michael Storer to enroll in GRCC’s nationally recognized Pre-Cybersecurity degree program last winter. He’s worked much of his life in manufacturing or warehouses, never able to earn enough to keep his head above water.
“But I’ve always been interested in computers, and I see a lot of job possibilities in the cybersecurity side of things,” he said.
GRCC’s Computer Information Systems Department offers an array of programs and certificates for anyone considering a career in programing, software or web, hardware maintenance, network systems – or cybersecurity.
The college’s new Cybersecurity Certificate offers a 100% online program that prepares students to become the next generation of data defenders in a single academic year.
“By the end of the certificate program, they’ve managed to do half an associate degree, plus some additional courses,” said Andrew Rozema, CIS Department chair. “All our coursework is designed in response to the needs of West Michigan employers and students. We’re here to make educated, talented students who can go on to make great employees.”
In addition to skills in coding and operating systems, the program ties closely to many of the top industry-recognized cybersecurity certifications.
“By earning these certifications, it really shows future employers that I’m a guy who wants to learn more and proves I have the proficiency they require,” Storer said.
For students like Storer interested in continuing education beyond the certificate, the program consists of 36 credit hours that can transfer into GRCC’s CIS Pre-Cybersecurity or Network Administration associate degrees, which transfer into related programs at four-year partner institutions.
Storer estimates it will take him another 18 months to complete his associate degree. He then plans to attend Ferris State University to earn a bachelor’s degree.
GRCC was one of two Michigan community colleges designated a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense in 2018 by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.
As part of the program, GRCC students mentor local high school students looking to pursue a career in cybersecurity. Additionally, students will travel to a national cybersecurity conference and complete a paid summer internship with a federal, state, local or tribal government organization to further their learning in the cybersecurity field.
GRCC started partnering with Davenport University in 2019 on a five-year, $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation to train and educate the nation’s next generation of cybersecurity experts.
Many people interested in cybersecurity careers might be eligible for the Michigan Reconnect program, which covers the cost of in-district tuition for state residents age 25 and older who don’t already have a college degree. Additional information is available at grcc.edu/reconnect.
Storer paid for his first GRCC semester out of his own pocket but now has applied for the Reconnect scholarship to help cover the rest of his associate degree.
To concentrate on his cybersecurity studies, Storer dropped down to part-time work at a local assembly plant. He looks forward to the day he can work in his new field and make a living wage.
“There’s so much to learn, but I’m really enjoying school,” he said. “I’m going to keep putting my best foot forward, work hard and get it done.”
Additional information about GRCC’s Computer Information Systems program is here.
This story was reported by Beth McKenna.