Horry-Georgetown Technical College is taking strides toward turning South Carolina’s Grand Strand into a technology and cybersecurity hub.
In January 2019, Horry-Georgetown Technical College (HGTC) announced an educational partnership with the Naval Information Warfare Center Atlantic (NIWC) and a new cybersecurity grant program through the Office of Naval Research (ONR). The $750,000 grant will be used to equip a new Security Operations Center (SOC) Cyber Range and Forensics Lab at HGTC, and the partnership will enable the college to boost its cybersecurity certificate program to a two-year associate degree.
The benefits of the grant and advanced cybersecurity degree program are threefold. NIWC, formerly known as the Space and Naval Warfare (SPAWAR) Systems Center, will have a pipeline to fill its critical cybersecurity jobs. HGTC will be equipped with state-of-the-art training technology and resources to meet cybersecurity training needs throughout South Carolina. And companies can send their employees to training courses specific to their needs during the summer. By strengthening the link between industry and higher education, this program is a win for HGTC, the Navy, and Horry and Georgetown counties.
Before the announcement, HGTC representatives worked with NIWC to determine how to strengthen and align students’ technical skills so entry-level hires could begin NIWC with a strong foundation in cybersecurity. “The ONR grant, in parallel with our educational partnership, will help SPAWAR build the cybersecurity workforce we will need in the future along with the needs of our nation,” said Joe Henline, NIWC Atlantic’s deputy for mission assurance.
College officials also acknowledge the partnership’s potential for far-reaching impact. “From healthcare to government contractors to utility companies and beyond, an effectively trained cybersecurity workforce is essential for success in today’s world,” said Dr. Marilyn Fore, president of HGTC. “We are not only significantly improving the quality of life for our community but also securing the safety of our fellow citizens across the country.”
The new SOC lab at HGTC will target current and future naval workforce needs in cybersecurity and computer forensics. Programs will focus on three areas: 1) cybersecurity operations, ethical hacking and healthcare networking infrastructure, 2) application development and 3) computer forensics.
Students who take courses in the lab will learn how to tackle complex cyber-attacks using a hands-on approach. They will also learn to evaluate established risk tolerance, work effectively in teams and manage risk consistently throughout an organization.
Lou Ann Timmons, HGTC Academic Chair for Information Technology, Digital Arts and Administrative Office Technology, sees firsthand the excitement and opportunity students experience in the program. “Our students not only complete their networking and programming degrees of emphasis, but after graduation, they plan to come back and complete the cybersecurity program. Knowing that all three programs filter into each other is one of the most exciting parts for us,” said Timmons. “What our students are learning in networking and programming makes them hungry for more. They want to earn the cybersecurity degree because they have a vision of where it could lead.”
HGTC graduate James “Bo” Soles, a current employee of NIWC Atlantic, can attest to the positive impact the cybersecurity training at HGTC has had on his life. Soles completed the HGTC Networking program in 2005 and added the cybersecurity certificate in the spring of 2018. This certification helped him join the Cybersecurity Incident Response team at NIWC. Soles has been working in his area of expertise for over a year and finds the experience professionally demanding but rewarding.
“HGTC did everything absolutely possible to prepare and equip me for my career,” Soles revealed. “After working on the IT side for 20-plus years, I knew I needed to complete the cybersecurity certificate program and obtain the foundational knowledge so that I could successfully secure an advanced position in the field. The cybersecurity component gave me the opportunity to build upon my skills as a systems administrator to target the attacks of the future.”
HGTC’s visionary efforts have already resulted in success at the statewide level with the 2019 Palmetto Cyber Defense Competition. The HGTC Cyber Team – a collaborative effort for all networking, programming and cybersecurity students – won the first place Challenge Cup among two-year colleges and took second place overall among two- and four-year colleges.
For HGTC cybersecurity professor Stan Greenawalt, this success is just the beginning. “Our long-term goal is to offer this training to high schools in South Carolina in a virtual environment,” Greenawalt said. “This will give them access to curriculum that will strengthen their STEM skills and allow them to experience the hands-on building blocks necessary to perform the complexities in a network environment in this ever-expanding area of cybersecurity and forensics.”
HGTC’s president also sees this opportunity as a mission. According to Fore, “This grant and partnership help HGTC not only fulfill our mission of embracing technological innovation in education and promoting economic growth, but it also allows us to play a critical part in keeping our nation secure. For that, I am extremely proud and honored.”
Learn more: www.hgtc.edu
Naval Information Warfare Center Atlantic (NIWC Atlantic), formerly Space and Naval Warfare (SPAWAR) Systems Center Atlantic, provides the Navy with research, development, delivery and support of integrated C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance), cyber and space systems and capabilities across all warfighting domains.