By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
Dr. Janet Fontenot, dean of the business division at Southwestern Illinois College, says the new Midwest Cyber Center for Excellence places the region in the middle of one of the biggest challenges of the modern age.
The center, formed this past year as a result of a push led by Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, is still in a formative period, but the coming year should bring a new executive director as well as partners who will jointly build resources to confront the growing cybersecurity concern.
The genesis for the center came more than a year ago when the U.S. Air Force announced it planned to activate new cyber-readiness squadrons at Scott Air Force Base. Leadership Council approached the Air Force about exploring related entrepreneurial possibilities.
“The Leadership Council recognized very quickly that this is going to be something bigger than just a Department of Defense initiative. The whole issue of cybersecurity touches many more industries that just (military). Look what happened with Target, Schnucks (and other companies where security has been breached). This is a national concern, not just a regional concern,” Fontenot said.
Fontenot is among a handful of people brought together by Leadership Council to serve on a board guiding the first steps taken by the Center for Excellence. Others include Dr. Tom Johnson of Webster University, Mike Riley, president of the Leadership Council, and Jason Carter, president of Aegis Strategies, LLC, a government contractor located next to Scott AFB.
Carter’s participation is crucial, Fontenot said. Aegis has formed a nonprofit group that serves as an umbrella organization for the center and has pledged money toward the salary of an executive director for the first two years. The center is being housed in Aegis’ headquarters on Seibert Road in O’Fallon.
SWIC already has an associate’s degree in network design and administration and a Cybersecurity Certificate. And it plans a needs assessment to see what other coursework could be added. It also has the talent of grant writers, communications people and faculty that can be applied, she said.
The center will have a facilitative role, not necessarily providing the manpower or a direct solution but helping find resources for business, government, health care and others. Its primary focus is workforce development, first in relation to the cyber efforts at Scott, then in relation to the many other cyber-intensive industries operating across the St. Louis region. Cybersecurity touches on many areas of expertise, including programmers, communications, social media, and the STEM sciences.
At press time, the board was in the process of selecting an executive director. The next year will then be spent on formulating an agenda and finding partners and sponsors who can help make the center self-sustaining.