HBCUs are Critical to Diversifying the Cybersecurity Workforce

Advancing Minorities’ Interest in Engineering (AMIE), a nonprofit coalition of corporations, government agencies and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), is launching a new initiative at four HBCUs to prepare a diverse pipeline of students for cybersecurity careers.

The pilot will run through the end of the year at Hampton University, North Carolina A&T State University, Prairie View A&M University and Virginia State University. AMIE plans to expand to its remaining 11 HBCU Schools of Engineering in the future.

“You don’t want to have a homogeneous group trying to come up with the solution,” Veronica L. Nelson, AMIE’s executive director, told The Plug. “It’s critical to have diverse backgrounds and diverse experiences and diverse thoughts.”

AMIE has a total of 15 HBCU members that are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), which make up three percent of the engineering schools in the U.S. but produce more than 30 percent of Black engineers, according to an AMIE press release.

“When we talk about increasing the pipeline of cybersecurity professionals, these 15 institutions are critical in order for us to do that,” Nelson said. “I look at them as our diamonds. They are a critical, untapped resource of diverse talent.”

“It’s critical for us to go to groups that may have been excluded in the past. If we want to make a difference and really increase that pipeline, we cannot continue to go to the same sources,” she said.

There are nearly 600,000 open cybersecurity jobs in the United States, according to data from CyberSeek. Globally, it is anticipated there will be 3.5 million openings by 2025, according to Cybersecurity Ventures. This initiative comes at a time when the cybersecurity sector is facing an industry shortage coupled with a predominantly white workforce.

AMIE industry partner Microsoft was the first to join this initiative and after AMIE asked its 42 partners for additional support, Raytheon Technologies and Abbott “stood up right away,” Nelson said. The organization is not currently sharing the specific dollar amount the three partner companies are contributing to the pilot, AMIE told The Plug. The pilot is an opportunity for Microsoft, Abbott and Raytheon Technologies to address their business needs through the curricula that will be implemented at the four pilot schools.

In addition to providing funding, professionals from the companies will serve as guest lecturers and collaborate with faculty to understand where the education gaps lie to better educate future cybersecurity professionals. 

“Each one of the universities are at different points in their curriculum development so we felt it was important for these companies to come in and take a deep dive, partner with them and look at the curriculum and their research capabilities,” Nelson said. 

HBCU students will have an opportunity to speak with cybersecurity experts to understand how cybersecurity affects various fields of study such as mechanical, chemical and civil engineering. 

“As a small nonprofit organization, we were created to increase diversity in the engineering workforce. So this is just part of our mission and our vision to increase diversity in cybersecurity,” Nelson said.

The HBCU Cybersecurity Industry Collaboration Initiative Pilot is a positive step in diversifying the cybersecurity workforce and leveraging the untapped talent at HBCUs is a way to not only fill the surplus of open positions, but also bring in young professionals to revitalize the field with diverse perspectives.

Alesia Bani

Alesia Bani is a writer and journalist from Philadelphia and The Plug’s Innovation Reporter covering the Black tech ecosystem in Philadelphia. She previously worked for the Institutional Diversity office at her alma mater Temple University and has a background in reporting on identity, DEI and local government.
Contact: alesia@tpinsights.com