Fast Forward: University developing model cybersecurity internship program with $299,000 System, state grant

University’s leadership in the field will help address a critical workforce need in Wisconsin
UW-Stout's computer networking labs serve students in several programs, including the cybersecurity major.
​Jerry Poling | March 30, 2023

A cybersecurity internship grant addressing the needs of the Wisconsin’s critical infrastructure utilities has been awarded to UW-Stout, a higher education leader in the field.

The $298,771 Fast Forward grant from the state Department of Workforce Development and University of Wisconsin System will provide paid industry internships to adult learners, including state university and technical college students who are seeking to enter the information technology and cybersecurity field or enhance their skillset.

Students who are unemployed, underemployed or from underrepresented groups in the field, including women and veterans, are encouraged to apply. UW-Stout has an undergraduate program in cybersecurity.

Four grants totaling $1.1 million were awarded to three UW System schools, Gov. Tony Evers and the Department of Workforce Development announced Thursday, April 13.

UW-Stout has received a state and UW System grant to develop a model cybersecurity internship program.
A student checks servers while working in UW-Stout’s cybersecurity labs. / UW-Stout

According to Cyber Seek, more than 1.1 million people are employed in the industry in the U.S., but there are more than 755,000 job openings, including more than 7,800 in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin shortage is despite a high average salary for an entry-level cybersecurity analyst in the state: $75,000.

The goals of the program are to increase students’ work-based opportunities, enhance awareness career possibilities and educational pathways in Wisconsin, and create industry connections for students and regional employers.

In addition to the work experience, interns will benefit from establishing industry connections that could lead to future job opportunities with regional employers. State companies already supporting the program include Aspirus, Dirksgroup, Malisko, Marshfield Clinic and Rockwell Automation. More companies will be recruited. The program matches students to industry mentors.

Professor Holly Yuan instructs students in a computer networking lab at UW-Stout.
Professor Holly Yuan, center, is the cybersecurity center director at UW-Stout. / UW-Stout

“This program will benefit many students and unemployed workers who want to upskill and transition into cybersecurity, help them develop skillsets they need to be successful and inspire them to pursue a full-time profession in IT and cybersecurity,” said Professor Holly Yuan, grant director, program director and cybersecurity center director at UW-Stout.

The program will begin in May with 20 interns, followed by 20 more interns in late summer or fall and run through June 1, 2024.

Students can apply via a website that will be developed by UW-Stout. In the interim, interested applicants should email centerforcybersecurity@uwstout.edu. A project coordinator will be hired to coordinate the day-to-day management of the internship program and industry partner relationships.

UW-Stout student Christina Kimball checks on equipment in a UW-Stout cybersecurity lab.
UW-Stout student Christina Kimball checks on equipment in a UW-Stout cybersecurity lab. / UW-Stout

“As a polytechnic institution, it is within UW-Stout’s mission for students to gain hands-on experience,” said Anne Hoeltke, director of the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. “Through this grant, students will have the opportunity to gain valuable work experience and apply academic concepts in real-world settings. Employers will have the opportunity to evaluate prospective new hires, obtain fresh ideas and foster stronger relationships with UW-Stout. For these reasons, the ability to apply scholarships to internships is an easy win-win for students, employers and the university.”

Yuan will work with UW-Stout’s Career Services, the Cybersecurity Research and Outreach Center, and a project coordinator to administer the internship program. Career Services oversees an existing Cooperative Education and Internship Program on campus that served more than 1,100 students in 2021-22.

Interns will work a minimum of 240 hours and be paid an average of $20 an hour. They can apply for gift cards to assist with barriers for internship completion, including for transportation and gas.

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The next-level goal of the grant will be to replicate UW-Stout’s program across the UW System. A scalable, statewide IT and cybersecurity internship program will “provide the state with a head start in the development of critical infrastructure,” Yuan said.

UW-Stout has been a cybersecurity higher education leader in Wisconsin since 2017, when it became the first four-year institution in the state to be designated a cybersecurity center. The designation coincided with being named a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense by the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security.

In 2022, the university’s Bachelor of Science program in cybersecurity was approved by the UW System Board of Regents. UW-Stout also offers a minor, two certificates and two concentrations related to cybersecurity.

Fast Forward grants

Gov. Evers believes the grants will serve state workforce needs.

“Our UW System is a major economic driver in our state and a critical resource for building our state’s next-generation workforce. These grants will help students earn while they learn, ensuring greater access and opportunities for our home-grown talent to start growing their careers right here in Wisconsin,” Evers said.

"DWD is proud to support innovative internship opportunities for Wisconsin students through our strong partnership with the UW System. Students who intern for a Wisconsin company are more likely to stay in the state after graduation, making internships a valuable workforce retention strategy," said Amy Pechacek, DWD secretary. "We continue to identify new ways to build Wisconsin's next generation workforce, providing job-seekers with skills in high-demand fields and employers with high-skill job-seekers."

The Wisconsin Fast Forward program expands employment opportunities and delivers return on investment for employers. Through myriad endeavors, the program supports Wisconsin's economy and workforce.

“As Wisconsin’s talent generator, we educate students to think critically while they also learn valuable skills needed in the workforce,” said UW System President Jay Rothman. “These internships will help students kick-start their careers while meeting employer demand for talent.”

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