LAKE WORTH — Palm Beach State College (PBSC) is expanding its partnership with the School District of Palm Beach County (SDPBC) to enhance cybersecurity and information technology instruction and prepare more students for the growing workforce needs, thanks to a more than $1 million grant from the Florida Department of Education.
College and school district officials formally announced the Palm Beach Collaborative Cyber Pathway Project at a kickoff event in the Center for Bachelor’s Programs on the Lake Worth campus Aug. 25 that also included remarks by CareerSource Palm Beach County and industry leaders who are partners in the initiative. The one-year project will align the school district’s curriculum with that of PBSC, enhance technology in some high schools and provide professional development and resources for K-12 teachers and PBSC professors.
“This is the kind of collaboration that really makes things work,” said Ava L. Parker, J.D., president of PBSC. “We are starting with students early and we are continuing with them in a way that their high school experience makes sense because they can continue that experience in college.”
Mike Burke, superintendent of Palm Beach County schools, spoke about his excitement for the grant because it will help students stay up to date on cybersecurity/IT issues and solutions. Before becoming superintendent, he was responsible for the district’s information technology division as its CFO.
“As the former CFO, I recognize the value and importance of cybersecurity/IT,” said Burke. “We are heavily dependent on all of our IT systems. We really can’t operate our schools without them. In cybersecurity, the work is never done. You have to continually invest and reinvest to make sure you’ve got the right staff and the right hardware and software, and I appreciate the state making this type of investment.”
The Palm Beach Collaborative Cyber Pathway Project is one of 24 funded through a joint endeavor of the FLDOE and the Florida Center for Cybersecurity, housed at the University of South Florida. It was selected from 67 proposals vying for a piece of $15.6 million allocated by the Florida Legislature this year to prepare more students to pursue careers in cybersecurity and address state and national workforce needs.
“We owe an immense amount of gratitude to the governor and the Legislature for appropriating these funds,” said Henry Mack, Ed.D., senior chancellor for the Florida Department of Education where he oversees the Divisions of Career and Adult Education, Florida Colleges, Blind Services, Vocational Rehabilitation, and the Commission for Independent Education. “The most exciting thing is the alignment of the curriculums across the sectors to ensure seamless transfer and provide an accelerated pathway into the workforce for the students in Palm Beach County.”
As the president and CEO of CareerSource, Julia Dattalo knows the dire need to get workers into the pipeline for these critical fields. Palm Beach County is a major cybersecurity IT center and a cluster of more than 600 technology and support businesses employing more than 15,000 workers. Employment outlook data indicates that Palm Beach County will have over 2,500 job openings over the next three years in IT fields.
Among the goals of the Palm Beach Collaborative Cyber Pathway Project are to increase the number of students enrolled in the program and the number of industry certifications and degrees earned by school district and PBSC students by 5% percent by fall 2023.
“When we get a job order at CareerSource now even in the agriculture industry every job order asks for knowledge in computer software,” Dattalo said. “There are so many apps out there. We are shopping on apps, we are working on apps. We’ve gone from an eight-hour day in the workplace to a remote workforce and that means technology has to follow us. With that technology comes problems like malware and cybersecurity attacks. We have to protect our information, and we need people to help us do that.”
Deana Pizzo, PBSC alumna and CEO of I.T. Solutions, is a member of the PBSC Bachelor of Applied Science Degree Programs Advisory Board. She brought two of her interns, Collin Passmore and Gavin Pizzo, to the celebration. The project will help her hire more interns like Passmore, a junior network engineer at I.T. Solutions for the past two and a half year, and get them into the workforce.
“I could not be prouder to be the voice and represent our local business community and work with the College to figure out what we need,” she said. “It’s a fast-growing community, and I’m happy to be here representing that.”
Passmore, who graduated from PBSC with an Associate in Arts degree this year, took speech and computer technology classes at PBSC and says what he is learning in the classroom helps on the job.
“Those classes were great because the things I was learning such as how to install desktop software and how to better speak to clients, I was able to directly apply to my job at I.T. Solutions.”
Collin has been working at I.T. Solutions alongside Gavin Pizzo, who is also pursuing an Associate in Arts degree at PBSC and applying what he is learning in classes to his job as the company’s junior network engineer and media coordinator.
Nikki Cabus, PBSC alumna and CEO of South Florida Tech Hub, a nonprofit organization that provides resources for tech development, lauded the partnership.
“Every single company that comes to us is asking for talent and how they can educate that talent and find their students opportunities for internships and apprenticeship programs, which is why it is so important for us to support this grant that will help us provide them that,” said Cabus.