A partnership between North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP) is providing a diverse and expanding group of students with job-ready skills in computer science and cybersecurity – addressing a growing need for highly trained tech workers in rural North Carolina and beyond.
“UNC Pembroke has made incredible advancements to their cyber and computer science programming, two areas that electric cooperatives are watching closely as our industry evolves,” said Nelle Hotchkiss, COO of North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives. “We are proud to partner on this impactful initiative to support the next generation of highly skilled tech workers and build a brighter future for students, rural communities and our state.”
In 2016, UNC Pembroke, one of the UNC System’s smaller and more rural universities, made a strategic shift to expand its computer science and cybersecurity offerings. In support of that mission, and to meet changing workforce needs, North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives committed $75,000 over three years to create a dedicated cybersecurity computer lab and enhance computer science programming that will serve a diverse field of students for years to come.
“Information technology, and cybersecurity, in particular, are exploding in importance in today’s world,” said Dr. Robin Gary Cummings, UNCP chancellor. “UNCP recognizes that developing programs in these areas will result in highly compensated, secure positions for our graduates. And for southeastern North Carolina, this means more qualified individuals are prepared to address a growing need in our region.”
According to data provided by UNCP, there were approximately 17,500 cybersecurity job postings in North Carolina last year alone.
“North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives’ partnership with UNC Pembroke provides critical support for current and future cybersecurity students at UNCP,” said BreAnna Branch, assistant vice chancellor for advancement at UNCP. “This support has given our students access to state-of-the-art technology and unique learning and networking opportunities, helping to ensure that students are prepared for entering the rapidly-expanding field of cybersecurity.”
The success of the expanding program is evidenced by UNCP’s “BitSight score” of 736 – a rating representing the cybersecurity of an institution, and which is the highest of all 16 UNC system schools.
“The global demand for cybersecurity experts is high, and UNCP is distinctively positioned to increase minority representation in the field,” said Dr. Richard Gay, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC Pembroke.
Currently, students at UNC Pembroke can study cybersecurity within two distinct majors: Information Technology or Computer Science. The university is working to launch a new degree program – Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity – and it could be available to students as early as this fall. This will be the first time the university is able to offer a dedicated program to cybersecurity.
Sereena Chavis is a chancellor ambassador and soon-to-be-graduate of UNCP. Chavis is studying Information Technology and Cybersecurity, and has already secured a full-time position with Apple, Inc. She plans to continue her education by earning a master’s degree in Digital Forensics and building her network connections with other cybersecurity professionals. In the future, she aspires to join the federal government in fighting against cybercrime.
“The Cybersecurity program here at UNCP has shaped me to where I am now,” said Chavis. “When I graduate, I will have more confidence in going into any job with the knowledge that I learned in class and spreading creative ideas along with it.”