HARRISONBURG — There was only one reaction as dozens of officials and community members walked into Massanutten Technical Center’s new state-of-the-art cybersecurity classroom and lab on Thursday afternoon: “Wow.”
It was an understandable reaction. Upon walking in, to the left it looks like any other classroom, but to the right it’s like the control room of a high-tech security firm.
With long tables lined with sleek computers and two large display screens, all displaying the MTC cybersecurity logo, it’s an impressive sight.
The lab had only been complete for a week, but the plan for it has been in the works for years, said MTC cybersecurity teacher Buddie Ritchie during the unveiling on Thursday.
For the last year, Ritchie has been planning and building the lab with the help of students, but there was one hang-up. As a high school teacher, Ritchie needed the Department of Education to add learning objectives to include cybersecurity.
“I had to wait for them to get their act together,” Ritchie said.
Waiting can be frustrating, but in waiting better planning can take place. The end result is a one-of-a-kind learning lab. There are no such cybersecurity programs like it in the country at the high school level.
“No one in the country has this except at the college level,” Ritchie said.
Thanks to funding from the Harrisonburg and Rockingham County economic development departments, as well as the school divisions, MTC cybersecurity students will be able to train in a simulated environment that won’t be that different from a security operations firm.
“The function is to train in analysis to monitor for security breaches in real time,” Ritchie said. Even the look of the classroom/lab is meant to elicit the pressure and high stakes that would come with the job. “They can leave here and go into security operations,” he said.
The cybersecurity program at Massanutten Technical Center is a two-year one, with an optional third year to allow students to specialize in a specific area and focus on career exploration.
There is a need for cybersecurity employees in Virginia. Currently there are 33,530 job openings, according to cyberseek.org. Virginia is second in the country for demand in cybersecurity, due in large part to the proximity of Washington, D.C., and the naval base in the Virginia Beach area.
Ritchie said the goal of the program at MTC, other than to train students, is to entice cybersecurity companies to come to this area. With a plethora of students graduating with experience usually gained in college, it could be an ideal location for companies to settle, he said.
On Thursday, Ritchie, along with about two dozen of the program’s 57 students, gathered to welcome about 50 city and county officials, school board members, and business leaders for a ribbon-cutting and tour of the facility.
Ben Shifflett is in his third year of the cybersecurity program and said it’s great to see the classroom/lab finally up and running after planning for it for so long.
“It’s really exciting,” Shifflett said. “It’s been a long time coming.”