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McLean County educators want to get more high school students thinking about cybersecurity careers

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FILE - In this Sept. 16, 2017, file photo, a person uses a smart phone in Chicago. (AP Photo, File)

Cybersecurity is expected to be one of the most rapidly-growing industries over the next decade. The number of information security analysts is expected to grow 33% by 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Educators in McLean County are trying to help high school students to explore careers in cybersecurity.

Rebecca Henderson is an education consultant who is part of the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council's STEM initiative. It works with 17 high schools in McLean and neighboring counties to help students pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. The group is hosting a cybersecurity academy for high school juniors and seniors starting in January.

Rebecca Henderson
Rebecca Henderson

“The program is meant to be a toes-in-the-water sort of thing,” Henderson said. “Students don’t leave this class equipped and ready to jump into a career. What we hope they leave with is momentum to pursue it further.”

Henderson added the program is intended to feature industry experts who will offers students a chance to gain hands-on experience.

“We are trying to look at all different aspects of cybersecurity so that students can see it in any type of industry,” Henderson said, referring to banking, health care and education as three career fields where strong cybersecurity is critical.

Tom Frazier is director of the Bloomington Area Career Center (BACC). He's part of the HEAT (Health, Engineering, Agribusiness and Technology) task force that has organized the academy. The task force also includes Henderson, District 87 Superintendent Barry Reilly, LeRoy schools superintendent Gary Tipsord, Heartland Community College President Keith Cornille, Heartland's vice president of enrollment and student services Sarah Diel-Hunt, and President and CEO of the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council Patrick Hoban.

Tom Frazier
Tom Frazier

Frazier said the four-month program is not for credit, but it can help students decide if they want to consider cybersecurity as a career.

“If they have an innate interest to explore a career and utilize knowledge that they gain, they can plan out there future and built out their knowledge base,” Frazier said.

The academy will meet twice weekly, from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday and from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. Registration is expected to open later this month through the BACC.

Frazier said the academy also aims to keep local high school talent in the area by connecting them with potential employers and college options.

“Part of the goal is to help fill the needs of our employers,” Frazier said.

ISU, Heartland Community College, State Farm, Country Financial and the FBI are all taking part in the academy.

This is the third year for the academy. The last one held in 2020 had to be cancelled midway through because of the COVID pandemic.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.