Heroes of the Ones and Zeroes: Cyberbit Partnership Connects MC Students to Vital Industry Experience

If you can’t hack it, you can’t back it.

As the digital frontier continues to expand, it’s more essential than ever for the cybersecurity workforce to keep pace. At Mendocino College, cybersecurity students are not only mastering the tools to stay one step ahead of hackers… they’re putting their white-hat skills into practice.

“The digital landscape is growing,” says David Pai, Professor in the Computer Science program at Mendocino College. “We use more digital stuff all the time, and along with that, the whole issue of privacy [and] security has just grown.”

From smartphone security to AI, Mendocino College has always been ahead of the game when it comes to evolving issues in cybersecurity. The Computer Science department recently introduced four new Cybersecurity degree pathways, beginning in the spring, allowing students to earn an associate degree in Cybersecurity or certificates of achievement in Digital Forensics, Network Defense and Penetration Test.

But in an industry that moves as fast as the flow of data, students need more than just a degree to connect to a great career. The cybersecurity industry frequently requires authentic experience, even in entry-level employees. Thanks to a dynamic new partnership with the world-leading skill development platform Cyberbit, Mendocino College is giving students the opportunity to hone critical cybersecurity skills.

“One of the reasons we love Cyberbit so much is that it provides a platform where we can actually give [students] as close to realistic problems and scenarios as we can,” says Pai. “So, they get to log in to a …. full-fledged network that you might see in a larger enterprise.

“They use real tools you would use in the real world.”

The Strong Workforce-supported partnership with Cyberbit fosters a learning environment for students to sharpen vital cybersecurity skills, including ethical hacking, network security, penetration testing, digital forensics, and more. Students can engage Cyberbit’s “cyber range,” experiencing a realistic virtual environment that trains vital cyber defense techniques, hands-on.

Mendocino College’s Cybersecurity program is designed to align with the Draft IT Cybersecurity Model Curriculum for California Community Colleges, making it a unique learning experience and a top choice for students seeking careers in the industry.

“We wanted to provide our cybersecurity students with a leg up in the industry when they graduate,” explains Christy Smith, Dean of Career Education at Mendocino College. “Giving them hands-on experience practicing on a cyber range meets that objective.”

While the partnership provides students with game-changing opportunities for authentic experience, it also expands the College’s profile as a destination for cybersecurity career-seekers, according to the Dean.

“Using the Cyberbit platform has the added benefits of raising awareness about our cybersecurity program, which can boost enrollment, retention, and completion rates — key criteria for the performance-based funding model used by California Community Colleges,” Smith reflects.

And with virtually every industry — from healthcare, finance, automotive, and more — calling for cybersecurity professionals, students can focus on specific pathways and network their way into high-paying careers.

“It touches everything,” says Pai about growing cybersecurity demands. “Our infrastructure, simple things like getting electricity and power, water, everything … We’ve seen that in recent years more and more, with some attacks on infrastructure, so, it’s something that we need.”

Cyberbit’s advanced cyber range offers a hyper-realistic environment that replicates a security operations center (SOC), enterprise-grade networks, leading security tools, and real-world cyber-attacks like the ones that grads will likely confront on the job.

The platform is separated into three different activity types for MC students, including spotlights, which offer a technical overview of skill sets and theories, hands-on labs that help students practice the valuable skill sets, and the cyber range — where students can apply the knowledge in a real-world setting.

The platform supports a learning environment to assist students as they navigate breaches, learn how to fix them, all the while ensuring that the same breach can be avoided in the future. The cyber range is already garnering positive feedback from students in Pai’s network security and ethical hacking classes.

“For the [students] that are engaged, it’s great,” says the professor. “They’re the ones that are going to go on and have successful careers.”

As demand spikes for cyber-focused employees in California, opportunities are imminent for cybersecurity program grads: More than 80,000 open cybersecurity job positions existed in 2023. Information Security Analyst jobs alone are projected to expand by a staggering 32 percent nationwide over the next decade, with more than 16,000 predicted annual job openings, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For professionals already working in the cybersecurity industry, Mendocino College’s degree pathways are a way to update their knowledge and master new tools and techniques.

“There are two sides to it … Experienced people … need new skills and then entry level people need the experience,” explains Pai. “There’s an experienced person that has a lot of understanding about networking, and they may not have all of the tools they need in order to evaluate what happens on their network … Others, we teach them that side of it, but then they don’t have the real experience of the day-to-day operations and what goes on.”

Even as institutions like Mendocino College step up to address these workforce needs, the call for cybersecurity professionals remains loud and clear. With new wrinkles like AI in the mix, Pai believes higher education solutions will be pivotal in staying ahead of the avalanche.

“I just saw an article recently that says even though we’re educating all of these people to do it, we’re falling further and further behind in terms of how many people we need to do it,” the professor says. “It’s becoming that pervasive, and then we add AI to all of this … I just see a big snowball coming really fast down the hill.”

While demands continue to surge, Mendocino College remains committed to providing students with a valuable cybersecurity experience this Spring, elevated by the partnership with Cyberbit.

“We believe that Cyberbit helps us achieve our primary objective of producing elite, workforce-ready cybersecurity graduates of the future,” Smith concludes.


November 2023