Butler Community College has been designated a National Center of Academic Excellence in cybersecurity defense by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.

“This affirms that we set the bar higher for our programs,” said Brett Eisenman, associate professor of computer information technology at Butler, where students can earn a certificate or associate degree in cybersecurity.

Butler helps train students to deal with growing cybersecurity threats and prepares them for jobs such as security analysts and network administrators.

“Your ability to meet the increasing demands of the program criteria will serve the nation well,” Karen Leuschner, the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education at the NSA, said in a letter to Butler announcing the designation.

Butler joins Johnson County Community College as the only two-year school in Kansas with the designation, which is good through 2024. Wichita State, Kansas, Kansas State and Fort Hays State all have the designation as well.

“We’re so foundational,” said Eisenman, who is the department chair for cyber security and networking administration. “We’re like the groundwork for what students need to have to go on to WSU or Friends or any other four-year school.

“I think that’s what makes us fit so well into the whole (cyber security) hub. We can provide them with their basic certifications.”

About 60 students are enrolled in the program.

A Foundation We Can Trust

Butler holds an articulation agreement with Friends which grants students their first two years toward the cyber security degree at Friends. Friends accepts up to 78 credit hours toward a bachelor’s degree from Butler cybersecurity graduates and also has a cyber security master’s program.

Butler’s designation “tells us they’ve got a pretty solid foundation that we can trust,” said Lt. Col. Andrew VanderZeil, squadron commander in the Cybersecurity Group of the 184th Wing of the Kansas Air National Guard at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita. “They’re doing it right.”

Regardless of the industry, “it’s always challenging to know if the talent that’s coming in front of you is genuine or if they’re a paper tiger,” VanderZeil said.

Butler “always has a good track record of creating students who care, with a passion and real knowledge.”

Butler has also partnered with Wichita State University (WSU) and Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology (OSUIT) to offer students a four-year coordinated program through the applied computing curriculum where students will receive a Cyber Security Associate in Applied Science degree at Butler Community College in the first two years and a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Computing from WSU or a Bachelor of Technology in Information Technologies at OSUIT after two additional years.

More resources, job opportunities

The designation isn’t just a nice plaque to hang on the wall, Eisenman said. It will result in much more recognition within the industry.

“We’re already seeing more portals of job opportunities and resources available for us as instructors,” he said.

That includes using a variety of scenarios and simulations they can use in their courses, including remote pin testing, remote capture the flag games and exercises “that will hopefully be more appealing to kids these days,” Eisenman said.

Cybersecurity doesn’t have the flash that developing video games does, he said.

“It’s hard in this visually stimulated age to get students interested in finding clues and finding breaches, finding where things went wrong,” Eisenman said. “You’re looking for clues.”

Butler’s program has what could almost be described as a stem cell approach to teaching cyber security, in that students are given a strong foundation of the fundamentals and then build from there.

That’s appealing to VanderZeil and employers in general.

“It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in…those basic foundational skills, they’re always the hardest to build,” VanderZeil said.

If someone from Butler joins the National Guard and comes to work at the 184th, “we’re not having to tear things apart and rebuild what they know,” he said. “We can draft them toward their passion, figure out what they want to do and help them do it, instead of teaching them the basics of hammering and sawing.”

Skill sets constantly changing

One of the components that makes Butler’s program so effective is the constant updating of the curriculum to take into account the ever-changing threats, officials said.

“Every day we’re hearing there’s a new data breach or new security issue of one kind or another, and we’re training the next generation of workforce employees to be able to combat these bad actors that are out in the world,” said Kevin Lann-Teubner, associate professor of computer information technology.

Keeping up with the ever-changing threats means constantly updating the curriculum, Eisenman said.

“Anything in the IT industry is rapidly moving,” he said. “The skill set’s constantly changing. Kevin and I lament all the time that we should have been math teachers, because two plus two is still four.

“They write their classes one time and use it for twenty years and enjoy their summers. We spend our summers and Christmas vacation rewriting classes and learning new technology.”

Developing ‘soft skills’

While staying on top of the latest threats is an important piece of the cybersecurity program, Lann-Teubner said helping students to develop good “soft skills” – such as working in teams and being able to explain themselves well – is significant as well.

One of the three main cybersecurity labs at Butler is set up for students to work in teams and sharpen those skills, he said.

“We have a texting culture and people are real comfortable doing that,” Lann-Teubner said. “Get them in a group with each other and it’s a different story.”

But they need to become comfortable talking with others to succeed in their careers, he said.

“You’ve got to be able to talk to your peers, but you’ve also got to be able to talk to that C-class,” Lann-Teubner said, referring to executives. “They don’t know how to talk tech.”

The national designation covers more than the cybersecurity classes students take at Butler.

It covers the “institution as a whole,” Lann-Teubner said. “I had to prove that our information technology department also takes cybersecurity seriously.”

He and Eisenman also had to show that other departments teach students about cybersecurity threats.

This isn’t the first time Butler’s cybersecurity program has been certified by the National Security Agency. But this new certification means Butler meets updated standards that have been developed by the NSA, Eisenman said.


Author Credits | Stan Finger | @StanFinger | Stan is an award-winning journalist who twice earned nominations for the Pulitzer Prize over the course of a distinguished career at the Wichita Eagle. A native Kansan who grew up on a farm in central Kansas, Finger has also written two books: Into the Deep, a look at the deadly flash flood in the Flint Hills in 2003, and the novel Fallen Trees.

Photo Credits | Butler Community College | butlercc.edu