(TNS) -- Mid-Columbia students looking to learn about cybersecurity are going to have a new option.

WSU Tri-Cities’ School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has a goal of developing undergraduate and graduate programs in the fast-growing field.

The school will offer more classes focused on the subject and plans to hire a faculty member by fall 2017, said Joseph Iannelli, the school’s founding executive director.

The computer science classes at the campus contain cybersecurity elements, he said, and they are working to create more.

“This is a natural evolution of the need for computer science and cybersecurity professionals in the state of Washington, the nation and in the world,” he said.

Students completing those programs will likely have jobs waiting for them, according to the Washington Roundtable, a nonprofit comprised of senior executives from Washington state’s major private sector employers.

Washington companies anticipate hiring 5,000 cybersecurity professionals within the next five years, according to Washington Roundtable. They will be responsible for protecting company networks and investigating threats, among other challenges.

WSU Tri-Cities administrators hope to fill that need, Iannelli said.

“Every day, when we listen to the news, we hear reports about cyber incursions,” he said. “This is very serious. We have to have professionals with the education, knowledge and experience needed to effectively counter these incursions.”

One of the organizations looking for more cybersecurity professionals is Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

The organization’s history is full of work trying to counter nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, said Doug Ray, the director of strategic partnerships at the laboratory. The lab broadened the scope of its work to deal with “weapons of mass affect.”

When a computer system is attacked, it may not lead to physical destruction, but can cause problems for people across the country.

“From our perspective, almost all of our funding comes from the federal government, Department of Energy and other donors with huge needs in this area,” Ray said. “We do lots of it and we’re going to do more of it going forward.”

The collaboration between the lab and the university is mutually beneficial. The university trains the professionals who can provide the skills to protect computer systems, and the lab can offer internships.

Ray anticipates the organizations will conduct joint research.

“WSU and PNNL have a rich history of working together,” he said. “This is the next step forward in working together in that collaboration.”

Iannelli said the relationship between the organizations is a natural outcome of the laboratory’s position as a global leader in cybersecurity and the university’s strong program in computer science.

Iannelli and Ray said the university’s program is different than the bachelor’s degree in applied science offered by Columbia Basin College.

CBC’s offerings are one of several vibrant programs, Iannelli said, and the university’s program is aimed at examining cybersecurity within the larger field of computer science.

“These programs already exist, so there isn’t a need for WSU Tri-Cities to develop yet another one,” he said. “So rather than duplicating resources, we’d rather have complementary programs that advance the knowledge of students.”

University officials plan to work with community college programs in the state to give students a chance to pursue graduate degrees in cybersecurity.

“So rather than waiting for students to apply and determining whether or not they would meet admissions requirements, we prefer to be more proactive because we want to serve all students,” Iannelli said.

©2016 Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, Wash.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.