TL; DR: The College of Southern Maryland (CSM) is the sixth-largest community college in Maryland, with an annual enrollment of more than 27,000. The school offers several IT-based degree programs (including computer engineering, computer science, cloud computing, and cybersecurity) designed for continuing education students as well as those fresh out of high school. With decades of experience in virtual teaching and partnerships with four-year institutions and regional employers, CSM is in an ideal position to help students acquire new skills and find job opportunities in the COVID era.
Cybersecurity experts are in high demand everywhere, but they’re particularly sought-after in the Washington, D.C., metro area, where the need to fight cybercrime is creating thousands of new job opportunities in government security.
According to CyberSeek, a project supported by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE), there were 19,108 unfilled cybersecurity positions in the District of Columbia as of early September 2020.
These jobs certainly have their perks, from generous salaries and benefits to high job security and satisfaction rankings. If you’re looking to get your foot in the door in this area, you may want to consider the College of Southern Maryland (CSM).
With a training center in Lexington Park near NAS Pax River and a main campus just 15 miles away in Leonardtown, the regional community college is situated near many government cybersecurity agencies — as well as the local companies that service them, such as IT consulting company Booz Allen Hamilton. To the north, the National Security Agency (NSA) is a little over one hour away.
“We work closely with an advisory council composed of several regional employers and agencies,” said Christopher Estes, who serves as the Chair of the Technology department as well as the school’s Computer Science and Cybersecurity Program Coordinator and Cybersecurity Instructor. “We consider input from them in terms of what we need to incorporate into the curriculum so students can perform on the job. We’re also close to the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Fort Meade, and the Pentagon — so there’s a lot of opportunity and unfilled jobs in the area.”
But CSM’s IT programs aren’t limited to cybersecurity. The community college also offers degrees in computer engineering, computer science, and cloud computing, guaranteeing that students have the foundational experience for nearly any IT role — from programming to server administration and beyond.
A Regional Community College with a Diverse Student Population
CSM’s roots stretch as far back as 1958, when Charles County Community College was established in Maryland, with its first classes conducted in the evening at the local La Plata High School. By 1980, the college had expanded to three official campuses, which as of July 1, 2000, officially became known as the College of Southern Maryland.
Today, the regional college serves Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary’s counties with a focus on delivering high-quality educational services and working to help meet local workforce demand.
CSM recently received national and regional accolades for delivering accessible education while maintaining high standards in terms of teacher-student ratios, transfer rates, and outcomes. CSM was ranked the third-best community college in Maryland and earned the number 51 spot out of 698 community colleges in the U.S.
Bernice Brezina, Dean of the CSM School of Professional and Technical Studies, told us CSM serves a diverse student body that includes recent high school graduates and adults seeking continuous education.
“Over 60% of our credit-seeking students are 21 years of age or younger, but we also have a very significant adult learner population,” she said. “We see a lot of working professionals interested in STEM programs. In both cases, the program offers an affordable, accessible, and relatively low-risk opportunity for learners to get their foot in the door.”
After graduating from the community college, those looking to complete a bachelor’s degree at a four-year university benefit from CSM’s transfer agreements with 49 partner universities nationwide.
More than Two Decades of Experience in Virtual Instruction
All classes and student services at CSM are currently available virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic — which, in many ways, the college was prepared for.
“We already had a pretty strong online component to our programs because we have so many working professionals — many of our courses were already being provided online,” Bernice said. “It was easier for us to adapt because we had such a talented group of faculty that already had been educating students virtually in one course or another.”
It helped, of course, that faculty members instructing the school’s STEM pathway are technologists at heart — and thus had experience with the logistics of managing online content. But Angela Small, Director of Media Relations at the college’s Public Information Office, said other challenges existed.
“Even though, technology-wise, the transition seemed easy — too easy — we didn’t escape the psychological trauma caused by the pandemic,” Angela said. “Even though it’s ingrained in our culture, the prospect of working, and learning, virtually took everyone a little by surprise. Of course, the coronavirus wasn’t anything we could have imagined, but we understood very early into going to remote operations that our students – all of our communities, really – were going to need help beyond the classroom requirements.”
To support students after closing campuses, the college provided laptops, lists of local internet connections, and resources to address food insecurity.
This is reflected in the school’s mission statement: The College of Southern Maryland enhances lives and strengthens the economic vitality of a diverse and changing region by providing affordable postsecondary education, workforce development, and cultural and personal enrichment opportunities.
“What distinguishes us from larger universities is that we are very focused on equity,” she said.
Financial Aid Opportunities and NSF Grants
In early August, CSM announced that the U.S. Department of Education granted the school $1,289,511 under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARE) Act, as well as an additional $1,289,511 to provide emergency aid directly to students.
Overall, this puts it in a position to award more than $9 million in financial assistance to students this year, whether through grants, scholarships, or the CSM Foundation.
“There’s a wealth of opportunity at CSM for students in cybersecurity, computer science, and engineering,” Bernice told us. “Chris is the principal investigator (PI) on a grant that aims to expand the pipeline of qualified professionals to help meet the workforce demand in the area for cybersecurity.”
CSM was also awarded $953,243 as part of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) program, which includes 96 scholarships.
To ensure students get a good return on investment on their scholarships and hard-earned dollars, Christopher said the school arms them with curricula tailored to industry-standard certifications.
“We don’t offer CompTIA certifications directly, but our coursework parallels the aptitude required to earn them,” he said. “After attending the appropriate courses, a student can confidently sit for an A+ certification, for example, which is a great door opener around the naval base.”
The school does offer software-specific courses, such as Microsoft Window Server Administration, which provides students with the skill set needed to deploy, manage, maintain and monitor the server while ensuring high availability of servers in a network.
“Our cybersecurity program is really multifaceted,” Christopher said. “You can’t be a specialist — you need to be a jack of all trades to be effective in cybersecurity. You have to understand networks and how routing and switching works. You need to understand servers and computers because that’s what people are breaking into. It’s a matter of knowing applications, operating systems, and the underlying network infrastructure.”
A Focus on Cloud Computing & Getting the Community Back to Work
Moving forward, Christopher said the Information Services Technology degree will be increasingly focused on cloud computing. The move comes ahead of Amazon’s tentative decision to build a headquarters outside of Washington, D.C.
“We don’t want to be completely AWS-focused, but you can’t ignore them, either,” he said. “COVID-19 likely threw a wrench into the company’s plans, but if there is an opportunity to build an employment pipeline 25 miles up the road, we need to be involved in that.”
Either way, he said, the cloud is the future. “Everybody’s putting everything in the cloud; the value proposition of having rooms full of servers versus something you can pay for as you use it is undeniable,” he said. “Even the federal government is doing it because it maximizes its budget.”
Angela said CSM is also focused on regional workforce development in partnership with the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland to mitigate economic hardship caused by COVID-19.
“We’ve launched the Getting Southern Maryland Back to Work initiative,” she said. “The first leg of the process was to meet with people from various industries in town halls. Now we’re mining the information we collected to identify community needs. The goal is to help employers upgrade training and help individuals get the skills they need to find employment.”