Montgomery County Community College is part of a consortium of community colleges across Pennsylvania that will be working with Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) to enhance cybersecurity and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education that is being funded by a $4.98 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).
The grant is part of the DOD’s National Defense Education Program to foster the development of two-year institution/community colleges STEM education consortia. According to the DOD’s press release, each consortium will receive an initial award of nearly $5 million over three years, with the possibility of up to a total of $11 million over six years.
MCCC, which will receive approximately $919,00 over the next three years, will focus on increasing certificate completion rates, transfer rates to four-year institutions, and student interest in employment in the DOD and Defense Industrial Base (DIB) science, technology and manufacturing workforce.
“We are very excited to begin working with the consortium. Partnering with the other schools in the consortium will give MCCC, our students and faculty access to cutting-edge resources and training,” said Dr. James Bretz, MCCC Dean of STEM and Principal Investigator for the grant/consortium. “The grant will allow us to expand training for high-demand careers in cybersecurity, network administration and cloud computing, to name a few. Students trained in these areas and who join the DOD/DIB workforce, enter the field earning family-sustaining wages in positions that often have significant opportunities for advancement.”
“The grant also will allow us to increase professional development for our faculty and to grow our faculty ranks by training new faculty. Overall, the consortium grant is a great opportunity that will allow us to enhance MCCC's already robust computer science and STEM programming and resources,” Bretz said.
“We are looking forward to the great things that this grant will help us do for our students and the MCCC community, said Dr. Rebecca Hays, Assistant Dean of STEM. “Earning industry-recognized certificates will help students in their job search and potentially lead to higher-paying jobs. The career-coaching and closer ties with the local DOD and DIB workforces may help students identify their career goals earlier in their degree progress and lead to increased transfer rates. Additionally, the professional development available to our Computer and Information Science faculty members through this grant will benefit students in all of our CIS courses.”
MCCC currently offers associate degree programs in Computer Networking and Cybersecurity, Cloud Computing, Computer Science, Web Development and Design and Information Technology and certificate programs in Computer Networking and Cybersecurity, Cloud Computing, Web Development and Design, and Software Engineering.
A main objective of the consortium is to increase the number of students who earn industry-recognized certifications. These certifications, offered by companies such as CISCO, CompTIA and Amazon, are highly sought after by employers. MCCC courses are already aligned with these certifications, but many students do not realize the importance of completing the exams or face other barriers to completing them. To increase certificate completion rates and lower barriers to completion, MCCC will increase emphasis on the value of certifications in their classes, offer certification exam preparation courses and use grant funds to help offset the cost of the exams.
To increase student retention and persistence, MCCC will enhance advising for Computer Information Science and STEM students and provide career coaches to assist students entering the workforce. MCCC will explore additional partnership opportunities with local high schools and four-year colleges to strengthen pipelines of potential students entering the field and to provide additional educational opportunities for students completing their studies at MCCC. In addition, MCCC will provide Prior Learning Assessment credits to veterans who learned technology and other skills in the military service.
Throughout the duration of the grant, MCCC plans to increase graduates’ interest in employment in defense-related industries, by providing job counseling and guidance and by building an internship, apprenticeship and research opportunity network with local STEM, DOD and DIB industries. Further, MCCC will develop programming to help students increase their soft skills for job attainment and work more closely with pre-college students through a variety of activities and programs.
Dr. Waleed Farag, IUP professor of computer science and director of IUP’s Institute for Cybersecurity, will lead the Collaborative Pennsylvania-wide Community College Consortium. The team includes IUP faculty and graduate students and faculty and administrators from six community colleges – MCCC, Bucks County Community College, Butler County Community College, Northampton Community College, Pennsylvania Highlands Community College and Westmoreland County Community College. IUP has partnership agreements with all of these colleges.