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Building a cybersecurity workforce in Colorado Springs

COLORADO SPRINGS – More than a million jobs remain vacant in the field of cybersecurity. News 5 Investigates discovered Colorado Springs is leading the charge to fill those jobs with students from right here in our neighborhoods. ​Right now there are at least 1.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs. The National Cybersecurity Center says the first step in addressing this shortage here in Colorado starts in our schools. Our state’s largest school district, in Denver, hasn’t offered any cybersecurity courses in its 44 schools. School districts here in Colorado Springs however are taking a different approach helping students find a future in cybersecurity.

Bill Tomeo is one of a select few high school cybersecurity teachers in the State of Colorado. He’s working with students from District-11 right here in Colorado Springs.
“Everyday is going to change so that makes the career exciting right? there is longevity on this. it’s not going to change. we are going to continue to have more problems tomorrow that we had the day before,” said Tomeo.
City leaders, top educators, and the National Cybersecurity Center are partnering together to work toward a vision of making Colorado Springs the nation’s hub for cybersecurity. In order to do that they need a workforce. These students can help eliminate the shortage in the cybersecurity industry.
“When I finished my whole career cycle and decided to take on teaching, that was a gap I wanted to try to close for us here in Colorado Springs,” said Tomeo.
Building his cybersecurity course from the ground up, Tomeo says generating interest in cybersecurity and computer science isn’t always easy. Students agree, historically this field has been presented as out of reach.
“People aren’t presenting the course correctly. I feel like what people get off of it is it is overly complicated. that not anyone can do it. only people who are really smart can do it and that’s not true anybody can get into this career and anybody can get invested if they give it a chance,” said Xavier Wilson a high school junior who is taking Tomeo’s class.
Every year more than 50,000 students graduate high school in Colorado. Estimates show only about 1,000 of those students have taken AP Computer Science. Of the 647 high schools in Colorado, only 96 offer AP Computer Science and even fewer offer a specific course on cybersecurity, but thanks to the success of Tomeo’s program work is being done all over the Centennial State to bring these courses to more students in the years to come.
“The vision is to continue to expand right? I mean, I’m one teacher teaching these courses right now in D-11 and it would be nice to see this facility have multiple labs with multiple instructors and to be able to handle more cyber topics along the way,” said Tomeo.
Palmer High School graduate Deidre Lacour is one of Tomeo’s former students who discovered a passion for cybersecurity in this classroom.
“It was just kind of a right place right time for my kind of thing and I really got into it, but it is something that should be catered to pretty much everyone to at least give them an opportunity to see what it’s like,” said Lacour.
She’s now a student at UCCS and on track to become one of Tomeo’s first students to apply what she learned in his classroom to the cybersecurity field in Colorado Springs.
“You have to have that creative mindset because you have to be able to see both sides, the good guys and the bad guys. you have to try to help solve these problems that require creative thinking because that’s how these people are thinking when they are infiltrating systems or whatever they are doing,” said Lacour.
Some students like Anni Mezzofante don’t plan to be cybersecurity experts at all, but what’s she’s learned here will help her be a leader in her future workplace, helping co-workers stay a step ahead of the scammers and fraudsters.
“It’s also figuring out how to relay that information to someone else who knows how to counteract that threat. it means educating your employees so they don’t click on fishing emails,” said Mezzofante.
Even above bridging the job gap, skilled cybersecurity experts stopping future cyber threats is a top priority. It’s a vision former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper shared issuing this statement through the NCC.
“As our country and state face looming challenges in cybersecurity, we need to ensure that both Colorado and the nation are as prepared as possible for possible breaches,” Hickenlooper was quoted on the NCC website.
But ultimately for many students finding a career in cybersecurity is about having long-term financial stability and finding opportunities close to home. Tomeo’s class has them started on that path.
“If you are able to get ahead of the game. you can really pursue the career better than anyone else and it’s always changing. it’s not going to be a repetitive job like most jobs,” said Wilson.
Colorado Springs will host the 2019 National Cyber Symposium at the Broadmoor in September. In the meantime, work is being done to increase diversity and enrollment in cybersecurity classes here locally.
For more information on Tomeo’s D-11 course: CLICK HERE
If you have an interest in cybersecurity opportunities visit: https://cyber-center.org/ 
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Patrick Nelson

Patrick Nelson

Patrick Nelson is an investigative reporter for News 5 in Colorado Springs.
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