LeMoyne-Owen College cybersecurity program gears up, set to build technology center

By John Klyce

Reporter, Memphis Business Journal
Nov 9, 2022
Updated Nov 10, 2022, 12:08pm CST

After Vernell Bennett-Fairs, Ph.D., became president of LeMoyne-Owen College (LOC) in January 2021, she started to look for programs that made the school unique. What could she spotlight, she thought, that would attract students to the HBCU over other schools?

And one of the things that got her attention was LOC’s cybersecurity program.

Cybersecurity had become an increasingly prevalent issue as the world relied more and more heavily on technology, and LOC’s program has a designation from the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense — which is held by just six schools in Tennessee, and nine historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) around the country. It’s led by Denise Ferebee, Ph.D., who helped it earn the national designation and gain traction. Because they felt it separated LOC from its competitors, Bennett-Fairs and her team decided the school should name it a program of distinction; and the goal has been to both promote and grow it.

“Everyone’s interested in cybersecurity,” Bennett-Fairs said. “It’s a great recruitment tool, but it’s also a great way to reintroduce the college and what we have to offer.”

So far, LOC’s focus on cybersecurity seems to be paying off. Currently, the program has just under 50 students enrolled, a number that’s doubled in the past year. It’s received $350,000 from a $1 million grant that was given to LeMoyne-Owen by Lowe’s. It’s in the process of hiring an Endowed Chair of Cybersecurity and Information Technology, the school’s first endowed chair position.

And it’s set to be moved into a pristine new facility.

LeMoyne-Owen is preparing to construct a Technology Innovation & Research Center — referred to as the TIRC — which is expected to be around 40,000 square feet and estimated to be completed in FY 2025. Design and purchase costs were $750,000, but construction costs are still being finalized. Located on a property LOC owns at the corner of Neptune Street and Saxon Avenue, it’s set to have classrooms, research labs, a technology-centered auditorium, and Microsoft and Cisco technology that’s spread throughout the building.

This new facility and the other efforts show significant promise for the cybersecurity program, which offers both a four-year degree — with concentrations in computer science, criminal justice, and education — and a 21-hour certificate. And Bennett-Fairs believes this is just the beginning.

A decade down the road, she wants the program’s faculty number to have doubled — it’s currently at four — and for it to offer a master’s degree in cybersecurity. She also wants it to add more certifications in cybersecurity, and increase summer camps for younger students who have yet to enter college. The program does already offer summer camps, she explained. But she wants more, so they can further increase students’ understanding of cybersecurity.

“I’d like to expand those summer camp offerings, and really increase the education of students, so they learn that cybersecurity is about a lot more than data breaches,” she said. “It’s education. It’s criminal justice. It’s computer science.”

The List
Memphis-Area Colleges and Universities
Ranked by Fall 2021 enrollment
Rank Rank Fall 2021 Enrollment
The University of Memphis 21,622
Southwest Tennessee Community College 7,177
Northwest Mississippi Community College 7,003

This article was originally published on “bizjournals.com

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