Aliscia Andrews, Virginia’s deputy secretary of homeland security, speaking at the ribbon-cutting with Steve Carrigan, director of the cyber center, and Jerry Wallace, president of DCC, on the right. Photo by Grace Mamon.

There’s only one school in Southside Virginia that the National Security Agency has named a Center for Academic Excellence in cyber defense. 

Danville Community College, home of the only NSA-accredited cyber defense program in its region, cut the ribbon on a new Cyber Center today, expanding their ability to offer advanced courses in this field. 

Several two-year colleges in Southwest Virginia have NSA-accredited cyber defense programs, like Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke, Southwest Virginia Community College in Tazewell and Mountain Empire Community College in Wise. 

And some four-year universities, like James Madison, Virginia Tech, and University of Virginia do too. 

But in Southside, DCC is the sole holder of this designation, which was renewed in August. And this is important, as there are hundreds of cybersecurity jobs to fill in Southside. 

“These programs have filled IT positions throughout the region for years, including both in-person as well as positions requiring remote work,” said Steve Carrigan, director of the new Cyber Center.

DCC’s program has two concentrations: network engineering and cyber network security. Both markets badly need employees right now, Carrigan said. 

In May, DCC announced that it had been awarded an $850,000 grant from the United States Department of Labor to create a cybersecurity short-term training initiative. 

The release cited about 400 cybersecurity jobs within two hours of Danville. 

Carrigan said he thinks this number is a little shy, due to all the remote work for IT and cybersecurity employees. Many graduates of DCC’s program are living in Danville, but work for companies in other states, he said. 

“The market for these jobs is everywhere,” Carrigan said in an interview after the ribbon cutting ceremony. “We just have to try to pull more people from the Southside of Virginia.”

Virginia schools with NSA accreditation

These are the schools with Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense accreditation from the National Security Agency:

  1. Blue Ridge Community College
  2. Danville Community College
  3. ECPI University
  4. George Mason University
  5. Germanna Community College
  6. Hampton University
  7. James Madison University
  8. Laurel Ridge Community College
  9. Liberty University
  10. Marymount University
  11. Mountain Empire Community College
  12. New River Community College
  13. Norfolk State University
  14. Northern Virginia Community College
  15. Radford University
  16. Regent University
  17. Southwest Virginia Community College
  18. Strayer University
  19. Tidewater Community College
  20. University of Virginia
  21. Virginia Commonwealth University
  22. Virginia Peninsula Community College
  23. Virginia Western Community College

Check out this map using the filters “CAE-CD” (Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense) and “Virginia” to see which other schools in the state have accreditation from the NSA. 

The Cyber Center has been five years in the making. Carrigan said he first requested the facility back in 2017, when DCC won its first NSA credential.

The new facility will provide a more professional working environment for students and help DCC continue to grow in the technologies it offers, he said. 

Carrigan, also a professor of information systems technology at DCC, said planned programs in the new facility include courses on fiber fusion and Amazon web services training. 

And new courses will surely be added in the future, he said. 

“As time moves on, so does IT,” Carrigan said. “In fact, IT moves so fast that it is almost impossible to stay current for any period of time, so introducing new courses is inevitable.”

These courses will be available in-person, as well as online.

“The new servers will allow for remote students to login and gain access to the same preconfigured environments as students in the lab, providing both with the same level of training,” Carrigan said. 

Alongside these new servers, the Cyber Center will have new routers, switches, firewalls and other digital forensic equipment in its two labs, he said. 

Cyber security and IT skills are crucial in a wide variety of careers, including the manufacturing careers that Danville and Pittsylvania County are so heavily invested in. 

IT is everywhere, Carrigan said, and it will continue to grow in industries like healthcare, precision machining, welding, and graphic arts. It’s even important to local gas stations and restaurants, he said. 

“All of these industries could not function without the use of PCs and the internet, which makes all of them vulnerable to attacks,” he said. “Training these students in cyber security best practices is what all industries need to count on if they want to see their industry continue to thrive.”

The ribbon-cutting this afternoon followed a cybersecurity competition for students from across the region. After the awards and a lunch ceremony, the ribbon cutting took place outside of the Cyber Center entrance of the Temple Building on DCC’s campus. 

President of DCC Jerry Wallace spoke at the ceremony, followed by Aliscia Andrews, Virginia’s deputy secretary of homeland security, and Carrigan. 

Andrews called cyber “a never-ending opportunity to learn.” She emphasized the importance of attracting young people to this career before they’ve graduated from college in the face of increasing cyber threats, a sentiment that Carrigan echoed. 

“Cybercrime and cyber-attacks will only continue to rise in the future,” he said. “I believe that this training will continue to fill industry positions for many years to come.”

Inside the cyber lab. Photo by Grace Mamon.

Grace Mamon

Grace Mamon is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach her at grace@cardinalnews.org.