MAGIC uses $15,000 RMC grant to reimagine cybersecurity careers in rural communities
According to a report by Lightcast, a global leader in labor market analytics, more than one million Americans work in the cybersecurity industry. Yet each year an estimated 715,000 cybersecurity jobs remain unfilled. More importantly, the problem isn’t going away anytime soon.
While a huge supply and demand gap in any industry is troubling, what’s even more concerning is the rise in the number of incidents in ransomware attacks, data breaches and other cyber-attacks. One Westminster, MD, non-profit organization seeks to address the unmet need for future cybersecurity professionals as well as a desire to reverse the brain-drain trend in rural communities.
The grant project called CyberJobs is the creation of Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory, Inc. (MAGIC), and is supported by a $15,000 Maryland Agricultural Education and Rural Development Assistance Fund (MAERDAF) grant, administered by the Rural Maryland Council.
The premise behind the grant is that if you expose students to cybersecurity careers through fun and engaging activities like hackathons and Capture the Flag competitions participants not only learn logical thinking skills and teamwork, but also get a feel for what it would be like working in the industry.
According to MAGIC Executive Director Graham Dodge giving students a sneak peek into cybersecurity careers is key especially to students living in rural Maryland. “Students in our rural communities see life in two different worlds: one that is marketed to them from afar, and the other that they actually live in. At MAGIC, we’re all about showing them just how within reach a career in IT and cybersecurity can be with the right skills,” says Dodge.
But Dodge takes it one step further. It’s not enough that rural students see the possibilities of a future career in cybersecurity he believes that those jobs can be available right in their own communities. “Silicon Valley has more in common with small communities than large cities. The next Silicon Valley could very well happen in Maryland’s rural communities like Westminster where the quality of life is high and the cost of living is low. In a very real way we can attract more technology companies to these rural Main Street communities to recreate the success of Silicon Valley,” he adds.
Thanks to the CyberJobs grant project MAGIC has been able to expand the program into new rural counties, including Allegany, Charles, Frederick, Carroll, Garrett, and St. Mary’s counties and engage new partners to help meet their grant goals. One of the partners that MAGIC secured as a result of the grant is Allegany College of Maryland.
“Our partnership with MAGIC beautifully aligns with our IT career pathway programs like our P-TECH program (Pathways in Technology, Early College High School),” says Autumn Becker, director of Western MD IT Center of Excellence at Allegany College of Maryland, Cumberland, MD. “We are incredibly grateful to MAGIC for reaching out to us and to the Rural Maryland Council for funding this opportunity for our students. In rural parts of the state activities like this can come with financial constraints,” she adds.
For recent graduates like Michael Gardner who participated in MAGIC hackathons as part of the Cyber Club at the College of Southern Maryland, the opportunity to gain a glimpse into cybersecurity has been many years in the making. “Through hackathons I get to experience the illegal side of hacking, only legally,” says Gardner. “I started gaming when I was three-years-old. By the time I was a seventh grader I was building and fixing computers. My dream job is to work in cybersecurity at the Pentagon and obtain the highest clearance possible to defend national security,” he adds.
Perhaps one day Gardner and other students who not only study and work hard, but also believe that a career in cybersecurity isn’t dependent on where you live, but the skills you have, will land their dream jobs.
“The CyberJobs grant project faced some challenges at the beginning of the pandemic, but MAGIC forged ahead to expand its program,” says Charlotte Davis, RMC executive director. “This project was particularly attractive to RMC because it not only affected several rural counties, but also had aspects of economic development and workforce development,” she adds.