Coastline’s Cybersecurity Program Makes History Programs

August 22, 2018
Cybersecurity students at Coastline College

They’re sometimes called “breakers” — in that faux-derogatory way that a golfer might self-identify as a “duffer,” or a surfer as a “gremmie.” But it’s not waves or course records that these focused folks are interested in breaking. It’s systems.

The future-critical field of Cybersecurity attracts “people who like to break things apart and then try to harden it to defend it,” according to Professor Tobi West, department chair of Computer Information Systems at Coastline College. In the recent past, these tech-savvy professionals would follow a predictable path — from a Bachelor’s degree in IT, to an entry-level auditing or responder position, then up to the “AAA”-level (Analysts, Architects, Administrators). But with demand for Cybersecurity talent surging in virtually every industry, it was time for two-year colleges to step up to the plate.

“Without a bachelor’s degree, it’s hard to break into Cybersecurity, but it’s the skills, not necessarily the four-year degree,” says West, whose work in advocating for broader access to Cybersecurity careers includes founding and leading the “CyberTech Girls” project, aimed at middle school girls. “It’s [about] trying to implement new pathways, helping students get into something related to Cybersecurity.”

Coastline’s Cybersecurity program, offering a traditional 60-unit Associate degree, in addition to a number of career certificates, is breaking new ground in preparing these “breakers” for in-demand network security careers. Coastline was the first community college in California to receive designation as a Center for Academic Excellence in Information Assurance and Cyber Defense for two-year institutions (CAE2Y). This prestigious designation is given by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), with the goal of promoting higher education and research in cyber defense and encouraging schools to produce more professionals with cyber defense expertise.

“Cybersecurity is… it is a function. It’s a process. It’s an awareness. It is something that’s required of every individual in the world,” says Alex Estrada, Coastline student and president of the Xploit Cybersecurity club. “We deal with a lot of sensitive information, personally identifiable information, financial information. And I feel it’s my duty to apply the skills learned here to protect [these] industries.”

According to West, the success of Coastline College’s cybersecurity program is due in large part to engagement with schools and community groups which have begun to explore classroom-to-career pipelines with two-year colleges like Coastline. In addition, Coastline recently received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to develop a new Associate degree path for Digital Forensics and Incident Response, adding further accolade to its work in pioneering higher education within the field.

For “breakers” like Estrada, the high-level, high-tech access afforded by Coastline College’s unique Cybersecurity program is a complete game-changer. Says Estrada: “I feel confident and secure that the training provided here at Coastline is going to go a long way to protect any organization I’m a part of.”

Click here to learn more about Coastline College’s Cybersecurity programs.