Cybersecurity at Olympic College: On the Front Lines of Network Security
With cyberattacks, data breaches and hacking incidents regularly in the news, it’s clear that cybersecurity is more important than ever – and Olympic College is poised to help meet the ever-growing need for highly skilled experts to serve on the front lines of the cybersecurity fight.
“As we become more technology-focused in society, there are more threats, there’s more attacks, there’s more avenues of attacks,” said Computer Information Systems Professor Kevin Blackwell. “As our government and businesses have started to identify that they’re going to have to hire more people in this area, they’ve found there’s just not enough workers being trained, graduating, and certified.”
The Computer Information Systems faculty recognized the need and identified cybersecurity as a “high demand, high wage, high growth” field, and began offering an increasing number of cybersecurity classes.
“We basically decided we were going to be one of those colleges that was going to help meet the demand for cybersecurity professionals,” he said.
OC gives students access to state-of-the-art equipment and world-class, hands-on instruction. Because of the high wages and growth potential in the field, there was a lot of federal funding available for purchasing equipment, training and certifying faculty, and developing curriculum.
“We have had phenomenal success. We’ve seen that being high demand, high wage, high growth attracts students, and we’re just doing our part to help meet the demand for cybersecurity professionals,” Blackwell said.
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Lauren: “OC laid the groundwork”
Lauren Hall, a recent OC graduate, always had an aptitude for computers. Growing up, her parents had a Commodore 64 and she figured out how to do things like explore the computer’s directories and find games.
“It was the early ‘80s and it was like, ‘Oh, this is so cool – I finally found something to do other than play with rocks,’” she said. It was the start of a lifelong love of computers.
Hall attended another college, which was not a great fit for her. She was looking into different schools when she came across OC.
“I knew nothing about the cybersecurity program here and when I was looking into things, and their partnership with WWU, and the bachelor’s program there, I thought that was amazing,” she said.
It was the partnership with WWU and the fact that she could seamlessly transition to a bachelor’s program that first attracted Hall to OC. WWU’s cybersecurity program is located at OC’s Poulsbo campus and features a state-of-the-art cybersecurity lab which was created with a sizeable federal grant.
According to Hall, one of the best aspects of OC’s program is its flexibility.
“If somebody has a lot going on like myself, it’s not like you have to pick or choose. If you have an available moment, you can go in. It’s not like you have to choose remote or in-class. It’s that hybrid flexibility where you can go if you have the opportunity to go.”
Courses are recorded, so if a student can’t make a particular class, they can go back and watch the video recordings when it is convenient for them.
The program frequently features guests working in the field of cybersecurity, Hall said. For example, she recalled a visit from a Department of the Interior employee coming to speak to one of her classes – a speaker which was particularly helpful for Hall, she said, because she’s considering working to help protect the nation’s power grid after graduating with her bachelor’s. She’s trying to decide between that and studying linguistics and artificial intelligence, she said.
“Regardless of which field I pursue, OC has really laid the groundwork for both,” she said.
Ashlyn: “We’re on the front lines”
Ashlyn Thomas studied cybersecurity at OC because she was passionate about computers. The quality of the instruction made a huge difference in helping her graduate with her associate’s degree, she said.
“I would recommend anyone that’s in the Kitsap area to definitely check out the associate’s program, because it provided me with the fundamental skills to be hired,” she said. “It made me well-rounded and helped me pursue my passion for cybersecurity.”
While completing the program, Thomas got an internship at local cybersecurity firm Critical Insight. They offered her a job before she even graduated. She works as a Security Operations Center (SOC) analyst, a role that monitors organizations’ internet infrastructure.
“We are on the front lines,” Thomas said of the role. “And it’s great to be helping these companies keep their networks safe. It’s a very rewarding career. You feel like you’re doing something that matters and helping out your local community. It’s never boring and there’s always something different from day to day. It’s a really dynamic and exciting career path.”
Thomas praised the program’s small class sizes, outstanding instructors and access to resources like Tutoring Services. Thomas is on the Autism spectrum, and she received crucial assistance from the college’s Student Disability Services office, she said.
Testing accommodations were a big help, and the cybersecurity’s flexible options – it was offering classes simultaneously in-person and online well before the COVID-19 pandemic – also helped lay a foundation for success, she said.
“OC values and helps people with different abilities to succeed in their chosen field,” she said. “I can’t thank them enough for helping me find a great and dynamic career.”
Tom: OC ‘Full of Opportunities”
Tom Rochat, who works at software company Avalara, had previously graduated from OC with a degree in Welding Technology. Although he had always had an aptitude for computers – he wrote his first computer program when he was six-years old – he didn’t want to pursue a career in the computing field at the time.
After graduating with his welding degree, the 2008 recession hit and construction work dried up. He was employed as a maintenance worker for an apartment at the time, and he slipped and fell off a roof. Although banged up, he was not seriously injured. But his doctor advised him to get a desk job.
“You need to stop doing this,” Rochat recalls the doctor telling him. “You need a job sitting on your butt, not standing on your feet for eight-plus hours a day.”
He came back to OC and planned to get an associate degree and work as an IT support employee, but Blackwell encouraged him to set his sights higher.
“It was with Kevin’s encouragement that I had the courage to even apply to the UW,” he said. “Had OC had a four-year degree back then, I would have been at OC getting a four-year degree.”
Although Rochat went on to receive his bachelor’s degree at UW, he reserves his highest praise for OC.
“The education I got at OC, from a technical perspective, far, far surpassed the technical education I received at the UW,” he said.
Ultimately, Rochat says OC students will get out of the program what they put into it.
“OC was full of opportunities if you knew where to look for them,” he said.
He recommends asking the faculty.
“Hey, I really want to do this. I want to be successful at this. How do I do it?” They’ll answer quite plainly, he said. “You just have to be willing to listen. And it’s going to involve stuff you don’t want to do, but just do it. It will pay off for you – I guarantee it.”