Cybersecurity pathway prepares students for IT careers
When it comes to careers, Buffalo Grove High School junior William Ruppert is certain he's on the right track with High School District 214's information technology and cybersecurity career pathway.
Taking this pathway," Ruppert said, "is one of the best things you can do. I really enjoy it because it's not like office work, where you're just filling out reports. You're hands-on, yet you need to be able to adapt to situations and fix them as they arise."
Cybersecurity is also one of the most in-demand skill sets in today's job field. According to a recent study by cybersecurity company McAfee, 82 percent of U.S. IT respondents said there is a large shortage of cybersecurity professionals in their own companies, with a projected 1 million to 2 million positions unfilled globally in 2019.
Northwest Suburban High School District 214 students on this pathway start out with basic courses and work their way up through operating systems, hardware systems and networking before taking the Advanced Network Systems and Cybersecurity class.
Along the way, they can earn CompTIA certificates in IT Fundamentals, A+, Network + and Security+, and also have an opportunity to earn dual credits with District 214's higher education partners.
"This is a huge growth area," said Tom Polak, information systems instructor for the district. "There is a great need for students who are qualified to identify cyberattacks, viruses [and] manage networks and organization's data."
In March, District 214 hosted a group of technology leaders, school superintendents and colleges to start building a pipeline of cybersecurity talent in Illinois beginning in elementary school.
Leaders from IBM, Uptake and Discover attended the event and discussed ways to partner with schools to build a curriculum that would give students experiences and certifications to fill cyber jobs.
In addition to classes, district students compete in national competitions to get actual experience with real-world simulations. For example, CyberPatriot is an Air Force Association competition with about 5,000 middle school and high school teams nationwide.
"It's as real world as you get," Polak said. "We were given three to four computers, and you have six hours to find the security flaws. The flaws can be as easy as software updates needing to be installed to finding hidden programs that don't belong on the machine."
One advantage of competitions is that they offer students hands-on situations that require students to actually hack into systems.
"People always consider hackers as a negative thing," said Mike Drenth, a Career and Technical Education teacher at Rolling Meadows High School.
"But it's really not anymore. There are so many people being hired as (ethical) hackers to help [companies] discover their vulnerabilities."
One student who has been getting actual work experience is recent John Hersey High School graduate Mark Thomas, who earned three certifications before his senior year. He's currently working for an IT and bioinformatics company in Prospect Heights, developing software for clients, maintaining client sites and configuring servers and networks on a project basis.
He said the pathway helped him decide what he wanted to do in the future. This fall he's planning to attend the University of Texas at Dallas to major in computer software engineering and information technology.
"This (pathway) is basically exposing you to everything in the networking world, and then you can choose your own adventure from there," Thomas said.
About this series, and how you can helpThis story is part of a 16-week series looking at Northwest Suburban High School District 214's Career Pathways program.
To join District 214's Career Pathways effort as an internship host, career mentor or classroom speaker, contact Barb Kain in the Teaching and Learning Department, email@example.com. To support the program financially through a sponsorship, early career credentials or college credits for students, naming or other contribution, contact Erin Brooks with the District 214 Education Foundation, firstname.lastname@example.org.