New Hub for Training Cyberworkers Emerges in Northern Louisiana

By Richardson, Maggie Heyn | National Defense, December 2013 | Go to article overview

New Hub for Training Cyberworkers Emerges in Northern Louisiana


Richardson, Maggie Heyn, National Defense


Louisiana Tech University Professor Travis Atkison is leading his students in a discussion on cybersecurity. The students are gathered in a special campus laboratory called the Digital Forensics and Control Security Lab.

In the lab, students work on projects that help them hone skills in detecting malicious applications and identifying threats to industrial control systems. Atkison reminds them that there are currently more than 2 billion people and 12 billion devices included in the online world, and that the professionals who work in cybersecurity will have to constantly outmaneuver the next threat.

"We're all about project-based, hands-on learning here," says Atkison. "We're teaching these students to think on their feet and be problem solvers because in the cyber field, they're going to be working on issues in 10 years that don't even exist today."

Louisiana Tech University is a designated Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency.

In the fall of 2012, the institution launched a four-year cyber-engineering major--the first such degree program in the United States.

Over the last seven years, economic developers here in north Louisiana have worked to expand the knowledge-based economy, particularly in the cybersector.

It's a departure for a region of a state known more for oil and gas, advanced manufacturing industries and agriculture. But efforts to grow the industry have paid off Since 2007, north Louisiana supports one of the fastest growing cybersecurity dusters in the nation. Local universities, colleges and economic organizations are creating benchmark education and workforce development programs.

North Louisiana's focus on network security began when state and local leaders launched an effort to develop a cyber-research park, which they believed could build upon a nearby asset, the 22,000-acre Barksdale Air Force Base located outside Bossier City, La. Funded by local and state resources, officials raised $100 million and developed a 64-acre research park modeled after the Cummings Research Park in Alabama and the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. The research park is anchored by the non-profit Cyber Innovation Center, an economic development organization that encourages growth of the cyber-industry in north Louisiana.

"Essentially, we are building a cyber-security economic development engine here," says G.B. Cazes, vice president of the Cyber Innovation Center. "We're seeing a workforce groundswell, so we're putting training and education programs in place to meet the exploding needs in the cyber job market."

The National Cyber Research Park in Bossier City now houses some of the industry's biggest names including The Boeing Co., Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Computer Sciences Corp. Information technology companies such as WaLal, Venyu, Ingalls and Riverside Research Institute have also moved to the site.

The cluster growth expanded across north Louisiana, where young entrepreneurs have set up shop at CoHabitat, a co-working space in Shreveport. Moonbot Studios, a digital media company founded by acclaimed animator William Joyce, is located in BioSpace 1 at the InterTech Science Park.

Technology start-ups focused on commercializing the nanotechnology and cybersecurity research coming out of Louisiana Tech University have migrated to the university's new Enterprise Campus in Ruston. CenturyLink, the nation's third largest telecommunications company in the nation, quickly snatches up graduates from local university science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs. "The growth in our cyber and technology sectors demands that our region, state and nation address the critical shortage of workers with technology and STEM skills," says Scott Martinez, president of North Louisiana Economic Partnership, the regional economic development organization for north Louisiana. …

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