The Cyber Innovation Center (CIC) has received a multi-million-dollar grant to help train the next generation workforce.
It was announced Tuesday that NICERC — the CIC’s cyber, STEM, and computer science curriculum program for grades K through 12 — has received a Department of Homeland Security grant worth $4.3 million in the first year to expand its educational efforts.
Kevin Nolten, director of NICERC, said the total value will grow to $21.5 million over the next five years.
“We’ll have students from all over the country enrolling at Louisiana Tech University and being employed right here in Bossier City,” Nolten forecasted.
The result of the grant will see NICERC’s curriculum in 20,000 school districts, 31,000 teachers trained across 2,000 campuses and events, 25 full-year courses spanning all grade levels, and 7 million cyber-literate students.
“NICERC’s work is now the national standard of education for cyber and STEM curriculum,” said Craig Spohn, executive director of the CIC. “It’s an opportunity for our kids to stay in this part of the space that didn’t exist before. They had to leave the state to get gainful employment, and that’s a community of folks we want to stay here.”
The grant came after a highly competitive process that saw NICERC and the CIC selected from among various groups and nonprofits due to their previous track record of performance.
“They were looking for someone who had a scalable model from a regional perspective to the nation,” Nolten explained.
Spohn said Homeland Security observed their program and asked them to propagate that throughout the nation.
“The way we came to this as regional solution is now being recognized as state and national solution,” he said.
Spohn credited Congressman Mike Johnson (LA-04) as instrumental to the progression of local education efforts at the federal level.
Johnson countered with a description of Spohn and Louisiana Tech President Dr. Les Guice as a “force of nature.”
“When we’re advocating for our region in Washington, we talk about the I-20 corridor as the Silicon Valley of the South. This is the greatest thing we have going. If we can prove this for the next generation, this is a place they can stay and keep their roots, grow our economy and grow our population,” Johnson said.
“Even in times of large federal debts we have to prioritize our spending and this is a priority. We’re going to keep advocating for it,” he added.
Spohn thanked congressional and state delegation for support, as well as local leaders,
“They allowed us to make investments in our kids and shaping economy in knowledge-based workforce,” Spohn said. “They invested in things that take 10 years to produce, and now you can see results of things that don’t take place in one political term.”
“What was started 10 years ago was a coalition of the willing. It was good people doing the right things for the right reasons without a bunch of lawyers in the room,” Spohn added. “Had we tried to do it with the legalities it would have take us five years to get to where we started 11 years ago.”
It’s more success for a program that has grown rapidly over the past five years.
According to Nolten, NICERC has grown from a small presence in NWLA to over 6,400 school districts, 12 teachers to 12,850 in all 50 states and three USA territories, and 1,000 cyber-literate students to impacting 2.1 million students across the country.
“We’ve seen Benton High School students go to Louisiana Tech and get a cyber degree and now go to (GDIT) in Bossier and are employed,” Nolten said.
He said northwest Louisiana, and Bossier, has played a critical part in getting NICERC to its position as a provable success record.
“Bossier Schools Superintendent Scott Smith is a true partner with the schools as a test bed for what we develop. Bossier Schools is someone we can call upon to pilot and distribute,” said Nolten. “Then you have Bossier Parish Community College as a strategic two-year partner where students can get certifications and technical skills, and then Louisiana Tech where we can take students into degree programs for formal education of our students.”
Nolten summed up NICERC as the physical manifestation of the Cyber Innovation Center’s workforce and economic development vision.
“That vision will ensure the students in our communities have the opportunity to be educated and employed in our community with 21st Century jobs,” he said.