Cyber Education Opportunities Abound at Montgomery College

In conversation with Sanjay Rai, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs



Montgomery College is a future-focused higher education institution with multiple campuses delivering content and innovative programming that is both affordable and accessible, on campus and online. Spearheading a statewide consortium of community colleges, and using grant dollars to continuously update and expand offerings, Montgomery College is always looking to innovate, and cybersecurity is one of their top priorities.

We spoke with Dr. Sanjay Rai, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, for a robust discussion about cybersecurity offerings and the College’s unique partnerships which help students move efficiently and effectively from classroom to job.  

Tell us about the emphasis on cyber education at Montgomery College.

Cybersecurity is an emerging field and a complex one at that. To help people understand just how complex, the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) lists 52 work roles and the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) needed for each work role. Montgomery College is filling the need for talent in the DC metro region because we are focused on the KSAs and we have the agility to respond to the demand for changing KSAs. The college has excellent two-year credit programs, which are a part of the National Center for Excellence in Cyber Education, mapped to the requirements of the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies. Montgomery College is a partner institution and co-founder of Cyber Watch, a national program (19 states) focused on curriculum development, faculty professional development, student development, and career pathways,  that meet the need for talent in government and industry. We are constantly working to update our curriculum to match the changing security needs of federal and private industry.

Montgomery College has partnerships with major employers in the area.

We are very well connected to industry. We work with 150 IT and cybersecurity companies including Lockheed Martin, InfoSys, Hughes Network, SANS and others. The curriculum is reviewed by industry partners and the faculty who come from these industries.  We offer customized training to meet specific needs of individual companies. This ensures that students are trained in the most current platform or other technology needed by a specific partnership program. We offer networking and internship opportunities to help fuel collaboration with major area employers.

The Cyber Advantage program is a strong and popular noncredit offering.

The Cyber Advantage program helps IT professionals take their careers to the next level. Montgomery College leads a state-wide consortium of 14 community colleges, created with a $15 million Department of Labor grant.  The six-month certificate program helps displaced IT workers who are underemployed or need to update their skills. Most important, it is very affordable and accessible; classes meet evenings or Saturdays, to accommodate students work schedules.  It is also extremely low cost to make it affordable for everyone.

And the SANS Institute program was just recently announced for additional opportunities.

Montgomery College and the SANS Institute kicked-off the Maryland Cyber Fast Track (MCFT) program—the first of its kind in the U.S. to offer talented community college students a clear pathway to important jobs in cybersecurity. With Maryland home to more than 1,200 cyber companies, this fast track program will help identify and train our young college students for critically important jobs in Maryland. SANS is offering $3.2 million in MCFT scholarships, which will enable students in Maryland community colleges and the state's historically black colleges and universities to participate.

This is a rapidly changing knowledge economy. Our backbone in cybersecurity and IT industries helps our students to think about these wonderful opportunities.

Montgomery College also helps to excite the next generation with programs geared toward Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS).

Yes, there are 161,000 students in MCPS and we engage with them through cyber competitions, training for teachers, and ensuring that students have knowledge and expertise – and access – to these new opportunities in cyber security.  Students may come to us thinking that STEM careers are in medicine or engineering. We want students to think about the emerging opportunities in IT, data science, and cybersecurity. 

The Germantown Campus houses your state-of-the-art Cybersecurity Center and Lab.

In order to provide students with the hands-on experience required by the cyber workforce, Montgomery College built a Cybersecurity Center and Lab and a Security Operations Center room. The Cybersecurity Center and Lab provides significant virtual computing and networking capabilities on the Montgomery College Germantown campus.  It is not only used for academic competitions and research activities, but also provides opportunities to IT industry professionals for teaching and professional growth. Montgomery College is uniquely positioned to train cybersecurity professionals and meet workforce development challenges with a learn-by-doing approach to education.   

The SOC (Security Operations Center) was built to provide applied learning space for students. In the SOC, the students analyze live Internet traffic and identify nefarious activities. Working in the SOC allows students  to apply what they have learned in a more real-life scenario.

We are proud of the work we do to ensure relevant and current programs that are accessible and affordable for all. Any cyber company looking to establish their business should consider this area because of so many opportunities.

The lab also provides a collaborative work space for groups in the area.

Yes, it is a collaborative space that inspires teamwork. This includes NETLAB+ servers with preloaded software to host real lab equipment, virtual machines, and lab content for trainees to complete labs at any location. Funded by the College and a TAACCCT grant, the facility enables the College to become a Center of Excellence in cybersecurity; a high-demand area of technology.