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Whatcom Community College Snags $7.5M for Security Program

Whatcom Community College in Washington state intends to use a $7.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to double the amount of students in its cybersecurity program.

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(TNS) — Being recognized nationally for its cybersecurity program and receiving a $7.5 million grant is not just a big deal for Whatcom Community College, but it could have a ripple effect across the county for years to come.

Last month the community college received the grant from the National Science Foundation, and WCC President Kathi Hiyane-Brown met with industry leaders, government officials and President Joe Biden in Washington, D.C., to talk about the need to fight malicious cyber activity.

The grant is expected to enhance WCC's National Cybersecurity Training and Education Center program in a variety of ways, including increasing its staff and students. Currently, the program has seven professors and about 300 students. The school is hoping to double the number of students in the program to 600 as the national recognition attracts people from all over the country, said program director Corrinne Sande.

On Friday, Sept. 24, Whatcom Community College announced that it also received a $1 million grant from Microsoft Philanthropies, which will go toward helping other institutions — including community colleges — expand cybersecurity programs.

Along with providing training to students to help combat computer attacks, the center is focused on increasing awareness of cybersecurity issues in educational and industrial communities.

Since WCC started its cybersecurity program in 2011, it's had an impact on Bellingham's economy, according to a recently completed economic impact study. The study estimates that 948 direct and indirect jobs were created between 2012-2019, adding about $16.3 million to the economy.


As society continues to rely more on computers to get things done, cyber attacks continue to increase. According to data gathered by the online publication Signal, ransomware attacks are up 148% during the pandemic as more people do remote work. Experts estimate a ransomware attack happens every 11 seconds, according to research done by Cybersecurity Ventures and published in Cybercrime Magazine. Other malicious emails are also up 600% during the pandemic, according to the report.

The increase in attacks is happening during a shortage of cybersecurity experts. According to a CNN report, 359,000 positions went unfilled across the U.S in 2020; globally the number of unfilled jobs was at 3.1 million.

Sande said that since it is a relatively new and evolving industry, matching skills to jobs can be a challenge, making it important to broaden WCC's program. Currently, many of the WCC graduates are being hired by government agencies, particularly at the city level as municipalities shore up asset security.

Noting that many cyber attacks happen because of human error, Sande said making everyone aware of prevention techniques is important. That's led WCC to broaden its offerings to include activities with elementary, middle and high school students, whether it's through summer cyber camps, adding advanced placement classes or visiting with students.

Along with potentially attracting students from across the U.S., having this center in Whatcom County is also an important opportunity for local and regional students, Hiyane-Brown said.

"It's highly unusual to have a center like this on the West Coast," Hiyane-Brown said, noting that many national centers are on the East Coast.

©2021 The Bellingham Herald, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Editor's note: This story was updated to include attribution and links to industry research.