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CPS, Illinois Tech & City Colleges launch cybersecurity path | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware


In May, Armando Rodriguez will graduate from Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy. By August, he will be a junior at Illinois Tech, made possible by the three associate degrees he earned while in high school.

“My journey through high school has been a transformative experience, beginning with my ambition of graduating with my associate degree,” Rodriguez said. “To be able to do what I did, I had to start freshman year, taking regular classes, but sophomore year I started taking even more high school classes to be able to focus all my attention on college classes in my junior and senior years.”

Rodriguez was one of 85 high school students participating in a pilot cybersecurity program launched last year. The program gives juniors and seniors across CPS schools the opportunity to explore a career in cybersecurity.

Now, a threefold partnership of the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago Public Schools and City Colleges of Chicago aims to provide CPS students with a clear, accelerated pathway to high-demand, well-paying careers.

Officials from the three institutions announced Wednesday plans to expand the program, called Runway 606, to include eligible students from all CPS high schools.

Previously, the pilot program was available only to CPS Early College STEAM Schools.

Interested students will take City Colleges of Chicago courses (under a dual enrollment system) during their junior and senior years of high school to either earn their associate degree by the time they graduate or reduce the time to an associate degree after graduation.

Students at Illinois Tech Mies Campus in Chicago on March 20, 2024. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)

Illinois Tech President Raj Echambadi said the long game of the program is to enable the next generation of technology leaders.

“Technology is infused in every part of our society,” Echambadi said. “So if a student or a learner is not equipped with technology, then obviously the society, the community, the city, the state and the nation suffers. This is a very small step for us, but hopefully, it will be a giant leap for Chicago.”

Echambadi said that with the program’s emphasis on mentorship and a holistic approach to student success, Runway 606 is about “scaled excellence.”

“We don’t want it to be a boutique program, catering to 10 people or 20 people,” he said. “It’s about strengthening the ecosystem.”

The idea is simple: The accelerated pathway for CPS high schoolers will allow them to transition from high school to a master’s degree faster, potentially reducing the time by two or more years, according to Andrew Chipman, director of early college at Chicago Public Schools.

Students who graduate on time in four years, while simultaneously earning an associate degree are leveraging both their summers and school time to get it done, Chipman said.

“The real advantage is that they’re transferring in with a bunch of early college credits from City Colleges,” Chipman said, adding that the ideal target group for a pathway program is current sophomores or rising juniors. “In order to really be on that path for 60 credits or an associate degree, and to then take full advantage of the bachelor’s and master’s in four years, students really need to start at the end of their sophomore year.”

Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy student, Armando Rodriguez, 18, work on a computer following the announcement of Runway 606, a first-of-its-kind program aimed at providing Chicago Public Schools students with a clear, accelerated pathway to high-demand, well-paying careers, such as cybersecurity, at the Illinois Tech Meis Campus in Chicago on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)
Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy student, Armando Rodriguez, 18, works on a computer following the announcement of Runway 606, a first-of-its-kind program aimed at providing Chicago Public Schools students with a clear, accelerated pathway to high-demand, well-paying careers, such as cybersecurity, at the Illinois Tech Mies Campus in Chicago on March 20, 2024. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)

Rodriguez, for instance, is currently enrolled in six classes at City Colleges and has his eyes set on a career in cybersecurity.

“I believe in the idea that nowadays technology is like your home, and you wouldn’t leave your home without a lock on your door, and cybersecurity is like that lock on your door,” he explained. “It keeps your home safe.”

In addition to his associate degree in cybersecurity from Richard J. Daley — one of the seven City Colleges of Chicago — Rodriguez has a two-year degree in computer science and networking.

Fatima Patel, a senior at Infinity Math, Science & Technology High School, also earned an associate degree in computer information systems from Richard J. Daley.

“To put it simply, cybersecurity is about protecting our digital world from attacks, especially in today’s era where the internet is part of our daily lives,” Patel said. “Online security is critical — from safeguarding sensitive information to protecting the digital realm.”

Patel was part of the 85-student cohort that pioneered the Runway 606 program last year and will be attending Illinois Tech in the fall.

“I’m excited for college life and I’m excited to dive deeper into cybersecurity courses as an actual college student,” Patel said.

City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Juan Salgado stressed to the high schoolers in attendance on Wednesday that the partnership paving the way for these career-changing education pathways is entirely student-focused.

CPS students left to right, Chase Fuller, 17, Fatima Patel,18, Mishal Johnson, 18, and Armando Rodriguez listen to speeches during the announcement of Runway 606, a first-of-its-kind program aimed at providing Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students with a clear, accelerated pathway to high-demand, well-paying careers, during a press conference at the Kapllan Institute, Tellabs Innovation Alley, Illinois Tech Meis Campus in Chicago on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)
CPS students Chase Fuller, 17, from left, Fatima Patel,18, Mishal Johnson, 18, and Armando Rodriguez listen March 20, 2024, to speeches on the Illinois Tech Mies Campus in Chicago during the announcement of Runway 606, a first-of-its-kind program aimed at providing CPS students with a clear, accelerated pathway to high-demand, well-paying careers. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)

“Today is about, not just dreaming and talking, (but) actually doing things for the benefit of Chicago families and the benefit of Chicago students,” Salgado said. “You’re ready now — you’re ready for college, you’re ready for an associate degree, you’re ready for cybersecurity.”

The technology field, including avenues in cybersecurity, represents a gateway to professional success and financial stability said Pedro Martinez, CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

National data substantiates his assertion: Career opportunities for information security analysts are expected to increase by 32% between 2022 and 2032, according to 2022 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and people in these positions are expected to earn a median salary of $112,000 per year, well above the national median.

The design of Runway 606 lays solid groundwork for partnerships with even more universities in the future, Martinez said. The program, he added, is built on growth and collaboration, rather than a one-off initiative that ends each school year.

“We weren’t just interested in a partnership to get students more college credit — now at the end that’s how we measure it and I’m really big on measuring success,” Martinez said. “But what was impressive to me (when) we came to our first meeting, was what I heard. ‘We’re going to support our children,’ ‘We’re going to have a mentor,’ ‘We’re going to have wraparound support.’ When do we ever hear that from universities?”

Officials at CPS, City Colleges, and Illinois Tech said the program’s “2+2+2 model” is one of a kind. It involves two years of high school (junior and senior year), two years obtaining a bachelor’s degree at Illinois Tech, and two more years to get a master’s from Illinois Tech.

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