Pikes Peak Community College has received a grant of almost $1 million to become National Security Agency certified, which will bring the number of NSA-certified colleges in Colorado Springs to five.

PPCC Cybersecurity Director Gretchen Bliss said this concentration of NSA-certified colleges will boost Colorado Springs’ reputation as a hub for cybersecurity education and training. It is part of a larger effort to make Colorado Springs a national cybersecurity hub, and to meet the pressing need for a qualified cybersecurity workforce locally.

“We have so much demand. If everybody who’s doing cybersecurity in Colorado Springs goes full speed for the next five years, we will barely meet the need that’s out there right now,” Bliss said. “The key piece of this effort is to build a partnership with industry that will identify and quantify the industry cybersecurity education, experience and certification needs so we can build a program that will meet those needs quickly and efficiently.”

The Pikes Peak Regional Defense Assistance Program grant was awarded by the Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment, and PPCC received the funding this month. The Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC is the sub-grantee.

The college will use its portion of the grant to develop the NSA/DHS National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Two-Year Education (CAEY2) information assurance program at PPCC, Bliss said.

The NSA jointly sponsors the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense program with the Department of Homeland Security.

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“The goal of the program is to reduce vulnerability in our national information infrastructure by promoting higher education and research in cyber defense and producing professionals with cyber defense expertise for the nation,” according to the NSA’s website. “Prospective schools are designated after meeting stringent CAE criteria and mapping curricula to a core set of cyber defense knowledge units.”

Being NSA-certified will make PPCC’s cybersecurity education standards higher and more consistent, via access to industry engagements as well as a network of National Centers of Academic Excellence institutions, Bliss said.

The application will be submitted January 2018 and the CAE2Y designation is expected in the second half of 2018.

The grant will also allow PPCC, which has been teaching cybersecurity through its Computer Networking Department for three years, to expand and refine cybersecurity offerings to be as current and applicable to industry needs as possible, Bliss said.

The Chamber & EDC will use its portion of the grant to develop the Pikes Peak Region Cybersecurity Strategy. It will spend 18 months conducting an industry assessment and will assist with the commercialization of defense-impacted contractor cybersecurity services and products.

Bliss described the Chamber & EDC’s upcoming work as “essential — for the whole community, not just for Pikes Peak Community College.”

She said the initiatives funded by the grant will build the pipeline of qualified cybersecurity professionals from many groups in Colorado Springs, including two- and four-year college students, high school students, veterans, people changing careers, and those returning to the workforce as a result of the uptick in wages and job availability across the region.

These groups represent “tons” of untapped potential, Bliss said, and the grant will dramatically advance PPCC’s ability to contribute to workforce development.

“Having the two-year schools in this conversation to feed into the four-year schools is the key,” she said. “The road is wide. There’s a lot of opportunity with cybersecurity, and Pikes Peak’s approach to this is that there’s room for everybody, because everybody learns differently and everybody’s got different requirements. … Now there is a plethora of opportunity for students to find just the right training and experience.

“The beauty of this grant is that it brings the entire community together to work this very important, fast moving, current issue to a new level that will gain traction not just in Colorado — with the great support of our governor — but across the U.S.,” Bliss added in an email.

Being on the leading edge of the effort to build industry, educational and government relationships to advance cybersecurity “can only bring great opportunity” for the students and employees in the region, she said.

PPCC is establishing three part-time positions as part of the development phase of the grant; Bliss fills one of those positions.

PPCC was chosen for the grant because the college has a long history of identifying industry needs and trends. College leadership “saw the cybersecurity requirements coming and jumped in with both feet to make sure the workforce needs were going to be met,” Bliss said.

“I think the DoD grant office saw that ‘can do’ spirit at PPCC and supported the large vision led by [PPCC President] Dr. Lance Bolton and [VP of Workforce Development] Debbie Sagen to make Colorado Springs a cybersecurity hub for the U.S.”

The other higher education institutions with CAE designations in Colorado Springs are UCCS, Colorado Technical University, the Air Force Academy and Regis University.