St. Louis-area universities collaborate to bolster cybersecurity

Consortium to address need for cybersecurity professionals in the region

St. Louis Arch

In an unprecedented academic collaboration, a group of six St. Louis-area universities has formed the Gateway Higher Education Cybersecurity Consortium (GHECC) to bring together area institutional leaders to make St. Louis a frontrunner in cybersecurity education and research.

The consortium will address the region’s need for qualified cybersecurity professionals in this fast-growing field and address the growing global threat of cybercrime, which is expected to cost the world $6 trillion a year by 2021, according to research by Cybersecurity Ventures. In addition, the consortium is teaming with St. Louis-based GlobalHack to host a fall 2019 “hackathon” focused on cybersecurity for students from each of the six universities and others in the region.

“The goal of this consortium is to bring together some of the great minds of cybersecurity in the region, learn from each other and help each other,” said David Reddick, executive director. “There is world-class research going on in these institutions, and this is a way to pull together the faculty to find ways to work together and solve problems. The opportunities in front of us are limitless.”

cyber security

High-profile cyberattacks and data breaches such as those on Facebook, Equifax, Home Depot and Target have made cybersecurity analysts and engineers among the fastest-growing careers in the world, yet demand for highly-qualified leaders exceeds supply: Experts predict a shortage of 3.5 million cybersecurity professionals by 2021, according to Cybersecurity Ventures, putting our already-threatened data at greater risk.

In the St. Louis metropolitan area, there are about 4,000 cybersecurity job openings and a very low supply of qualified workers, according to CyberSeek. Addressing that challenge requires a unified effort and will put St. Louis at the forefront of cybersecurity research, similar to its leadership in the plant science and medical research fields, Reddick said.

The initial six institutions in the GHECC are Fontbonne University, Saint Louis University, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, University of Missouri-St. Louis, Webster University and Washington University in St. Louis. Each university offers degree and/or certificate programs in cybersecurity and is represented at the dean level on the consortium’s board of directors and on the executive committee by a faculty member. In the future, the consortium plans to include other universities in the region that offer degree or certificate programs in cybersecurity.

“As dean of McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University, I continually hear from industry about the urgency of educating future cybersecurity professionals; our students also have a tremendous interest in developing expertise in this computing discipline,” said Aaron Bobick, the James M. McKelvey Professor at Washington University and GHECC chairman and president. “The collective wisdom of the leadership at these six universities positions this consortium to make a substantial impact in cybersecurity in the St. Louis region and beyond.

“The consortium also is a way for us to get the word out to major corporations in this area that there are cybersecurity professionals in the making among the member universities,” said Joe Scherrer, director of the Cybersecurity Strategic Initiative and program director of Graduate Studies in Information Systems Management and Cybersecurity Management at Washington University. “The members have worked together for more than 18 months to get the consortium up and running, which shows their commitment to this pioneering initiative.”

“St. Louis’ corporate, startup and governmental communities are experiencing dramatic growth and demand for cyber-trained professionals,” said Dennis E. Lower, president and CEO of Cortex Innovation Community. “All of our business sectors: ag-tech, fin-tech, bio-tech, medical, logistics and military have reached out for help in addressing this talent gap, which, if unaddressed, will significantly limit our regional economic growth.

“It is imperative that our area higher educational institutions band together to collaboratively fill this talent pipeline requirement,” Lower said. “The Gateway Higher Education Cybersecurity Consortium is the strategic response to meet this need.”

The consortium members plan a variety of events throughout the region to engage corporations in need of hiring trained cybersecurity professionals as well as students through engaging and practical coursework, corporate- and government-sponsored projects, hackathons and other events. It also plans to hold a career fair focusing on providing internship and job opportunities for students.

More information about the consortium is available at ghecc.org.

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