Robert Shaffer is learning to defend information from people looking to steal it.
The former truck driver is one of the students enrolled at Columbia Basin College to earn a four-year cybersecurity degree.
The bachelor’s degree program added 60 percent more students from last year, growing from the equivalent of 31 full-time students to 49.
The cybersecurity program started as part of the school’s computer science program. Elizabeth Hernandez, the college’s outreach and retention specialist for cybersecurity, said Lockheed Martin was looking for people trained in protecting information.
Matt Boehnke, an associate professor for cybersecurity, said several industries want people trained in protecting their computer systems and the information on them, including Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Kadlec Regional Medical Center and Mission Support Alliance.
Students in the program are trained to understand people and security systems. Boehnke said the biggest threat the industries and others face is from inside their institutions.
“You have somebody inside that’s a disgruntled employee ... You have to insure access and controls are developed to the roles and responsibilities of each individual in that organization,” he said.
Another threat comes from corporations and governments trying to get plans for a product, so they can copy them.
Energy-related companies need protection too. Many of the systems at hydroelectric dams and the nuclear power plants are automated, Boehnke said.
Individuals need protection from thieves trying to steal their information, online bullies and other predators.
“Frankly, it’s been the wild, wild west and people need to start calming down with the information they send out,” he said.
He credits the program’s success on a combination of area industries looking for specialists, and students looking for a college closer to where they live.
“We’re affordable. We’re close to home,” he said. “It’s great for a lot of the students who want to stay close to home.”
Hernandez explained the program is more affordable than attending college at a larger institution. Washington residents spend roughly $1,500 a year in tuition for the first half of CBC’s program, and $2,500 a year for the second half.
Students have good reasons for enrolling, and Shaffer represents the largest group coming to the program — older students looking to change their career, Hernandez said.
“I think our average age is about 35,” she said.
Shaffer has a linguistics degree from the University of Washington, but wasn’t able to use it to find work.
“It was at the time when people said, ‘Getting a degree is all you need. It doesn’t matter what,’ ” Shaffer said. “I never went back to college after that because I just didn’t see a point to it.”
After 12 years as a truck driver, he decided he wanted to do something different with his life, and he heard from people talk about the college’s cybersecurity program.
“(The degree) will give me the flexibility to essentially work for just about any company that I would want to,” Shaffer said.
“The job demand is so high right now that if I wanted to go back to Seattle, or if I wanted to go to New York, or if I wanted to go anywhere, I would be employable.”