Project REACH: Diversifying the Cybersecurity Industry by Introducing Caddo Parish High Schoolers to the Potential of Cybersecurity Careers

Project REACH: Diversifying the Cybersecurity Industry by Introducing Caddo Parish High Schoolers to the Potential of Cybersecurity Careers

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Alexis White

Back in April of 2021, we launched a program in conjunction with NSA to grow and diversify the cybersecurity workforce. Currently there are over 500,000 open cybersecurity jobs in the United States, and of the currently filled positions, only 3% of those are held by African Americans.

As part of our newly minted Project REACH (Realizing Equitable Access to Cybersecurity in High School) pilot program, Caddo Parish high schoolers are connecting with Grambling State University cybersecurity students to discuss the pursuit of cybersecurity careers through an informal series of cyber talks on campus.  Project REACH aims to strengthen the cybersecurity talent pipeline in high school through career awareness, thus increase the number of students pursuing cybersecurity degrees and entering the national cybersecurity workforce. The program is piloting in northwest Louisiana with plans to expand nationwide.

The most recent event held at Southwood High school provided students with an opportunity to engage in career discussions with Alexis White, the first graduate of Grambling State University’s Cybersecurity degree program. Students learned about her educational journey from a starting as a biology pre-med major to earning her cybersecurity degree, and how she secured internships which led to her securing a cybersecurity role at Deloitte. Alexis will speak to the remaining two pilot program schools about her career path, reaching over 500 students across Caddo Parish.

One of the major goals of Project REACH is to create mentorship opportunities for students and expose them to cybersecurity professionals who look like them. Building upon the idea of “to be one, you have to see one,” it is vital that underrepresented youth see and hear the stories of professionals in the cybersecurity field who come from similar backgrounds. Project REACH is currently organizing future webinars and face-to-face opportunities, where high school students can connect with cybersecurity career professionals and current cybersecurity students from Grambling State University.

The program aims to help close the cybersecurity workforce gap, increase equity in cybersecurity education and help solve the racial disparity that exists in the existing cybersecurity workforce.  Currently, 25% of all African Americans in STEM graduated from an HBCU. By tapping into a strong local HBCU network, this program will help alleviate the talent shortage and help diversify the cybersecurity industry with the goal of replicating the pilot with other HBCU and K-12 institutions across the country.

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