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Detroit Looks to Build Cybersecurity Student Pipeline

As the industry continues to grow, there could be as many as 3.5 million unfilled positions by 2021. To help fill this gap, Detroit’s cybersecurity industry is looking to find ways to build student interest and diversity.

(TNS) — With Detroit, Mich.'s cybersecurity industry constantly growing and changing, many are finding the need to teach students about the field while they're young. The industry — that helps individuals and businesses fend off criminal or unauthorized use of electronic data — is growing so much that there will be 3.5 million unfilled positions by 2021.

As of 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that African Americans make up 16.6 percent of the information security analyst industry, a number that has grown over the last four years. Here are some businesses and nonprofits that are working to create a pipeline for students to enter the field, diversify the cybersecurity industry and help small businesses.

Youth Groups Create Pipeline For Future Leaders

Richard Grundy, Quiessence Phillips and Brian McKinney founded a Detroit nonprofit called JOURNi in 2016 after bonding in the cybersecurity industry. Students and paid interns began to learn from these Black leaders, who are focused on teaching in Detroit neighborhoods and creating a pipeline to bring in more Black professionals.

"With the community that we're serving, we had to ask ourselves often not just about how we educate students, but how we give them access," Phillips said. "Some of the questions that we ask is, why should our youth have to choose between money and education? We offer them an opportunity to make money and to learn."

Support from the community is pouring in. JOURNi has received 175 laptop and computer donations, which are distributed to other organizations doing similar work. Foundations and donors help make the training programs free and accessible. They also purchased drones and robots for other programs, which are stored at the Marygrove Conservancy.

"Pretty soon, we're going to start hosting workshops on using technology, not necessarily creating anything," Grundy said. "Making sure senior citizens understand how to use video conferencing equipment and some of the daily normal things they need to do. Helping adults add new skills to their resume. Helping youth continue to build their skillset, be able to bounce ideas off of like-minded people within a safe space, creating projects and generating income for themselves."

Many of the organization's participants have decided to major in computer science in college. When students leave the program, they will have learned about building websites and mobile applications, cybersecurity, coding and more.

Youth Summer Camps, Competitions and Games

In Michigan, there are 13 Centers of Excellence with the Department of Homeland Security and National Security Agency that provide cybersecurity education. In the Michigan Computer Information and Systems Sciences and Engineering Chapter, they realized that it was taking a long time to graduate students out of the program.

So Tamara Shoemaker, director of the University of Detroit Mercy's Center for Cyber Security & Intelligence Studies, wanted to create an early pipeline for students. She created the Michigan CyberPatriot program six years ago, which serves students from preschool to 12th grade.

"We didn't have enough people in the pipeline," Shoemaker said. "And it was, how do we inspire folks to get into this pipeline and to be more educated about the diversity that is this workforce? That it's not quite what everyone thinks. It's not just coding, engineering and comp-sci. It's a very diverse workforce."

Students in the program start off by learning how to be safe on the internet, downloading and playing games that teach internet safety, and then participating in game competitions that run nationally and internationally. Last year in the state, over 1,000 students participated in 182 teams.

After-School Classes Coming in Spring

The national computer science learning company iCode is set to open franchises in two locations in metro Detroit in spring 2021. One will be in Troy and the other in Macomb County, though a specific location has not been announced. The franchises will teach coding and other subjects to kindergarteners through high school students who pay to be members. The centers also plan to hold learning events for the public.

"One of the goals of iCode is to empower future innovators," said Elena Diosado, iCode Macomb's curriculum manager. "That means that we want to give them the tools and skills needed for the students to come up with those great ideas and actually put them into an object or a product." She said the iCode learning centers also teach computer science fundamentals, allowing students "to explore other fields."

Subjects taught include internet safety, ethical hacking, cybersecurity, robotics, coding, 3D printing and drones. For more information, go to

Mentorship From Black Women in the Industry

Sakinah Tanzil was watching the news in the late 1990s when she learned about the so-called Millennium Bug, also known as the Y2K computer bug. Soon, Tanzil found herself enrolling in a cybersecurity program because she wanted to assist in solving this issue. But she noticed that there weren't many Black people in the field.

She is now a mentor because she wants to assist young people with advice that she didn't receive. Tanzil offers one-on-one coaching, group coaching, strategic planning and speaking engagements. She also wrote a guidance book called Breaking the Cyber Code, which has descriptions of 52 cybersecurity jobs.

"I was on the right track, but I had trouble breaking into the industry because I was young at the time, and an African American and a woman," Tanzil said. "So people didn't take me seriously and I didn't get a chance to break into the places that I wanted to break into. But I still had those skills."

Another Black woman in the industry, Jeree Spicer, realized that she was assisting so many people with cybersecurity information that she started a business in April called ReeTheCyberBoss LLC. She provides tips on Instagram, free mentoring, training sessions and workshops.

"I just wanted to help people out because for me, it's easy because I work in cybersecurity," said Spicer. "But for somebody who doesn't, it's like OK, what do I do? Right now is the perfect time to do that because with COVID happening, there's so many scams trying to get personal information."

To avoid these scams, Spicer recommends keeping computer virus software on at all times and continuing to update all technology devices. She also recommends not leaving important paperwork around the house, and to protect important items in a safe.

Her business partners with an organization called Blacks in Cybersecurity, which is a group and conference created to elevate the Black community in the industry. Through the organization, Spicer can receive funding and collaborate with them for workshops.

Businesses at Risk of Cybersecurity Attacks, Too

As cybersecurity advances, the need to protect small- and medium-size businesses is growing. So downtown Detroit's AaDya Security recently launched a new artificial intelligence system called Marzo4 that will provide user-friendly options for businesses.

Raffaele Mautone, founder of AaDya Security and the former CIO of Duo Security, headquartered in Ann Arbor, created the startup about 21 months ago.

The cybersecurity company focuses on protecting data for law firms, accounting firms, construction companies, marketing agencies and high tech startups in Michigan. Aadya Security also works for companies on the East Coast, in Texas and Canada. It has 20 team members now and the company is expected to increase that by 35-40 by the end of next year.

"If you look at what's happened over the last two years, we're all being bombarded with cybersecurity issues that hit us," said Mautone. "What's transpired in the last six months is that one of these events, either in one geography or globally, triggers what we call cybersecurity Christmas. It's where hackers thrive in this fear and moment."

As many continue to work from home, there are a few things that cybersecurity firm SonicWall of California recommends.

"Passwords are your first line of defense online and yet it is the first area where many fail," said Bill Conner, president and CEO of SonicWall. "Follow the basics: Don’t reuse passwords, use a password management system, and make sure you change default passwords on smart devices that connect to your network, such as baby monitors, printers or WiFi routers."

(c)2020 the Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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