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Between 2020 and 2030, the cybersecurity industry is expected to grow by 33%, which is much faster than average. That’s according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which also reports that the median pay for a job in the cybersecurity field in 2021 was $102,600 per year. There are currently 58,181 people employed in the field in Florida, with 36,612 cybersecurity jobs open, according to data from cyberseek.org.

While many of these job openings are due to turnover or retirement, demand is also expected to be very high since cyberattacks have increased and analysts are needed to come up with innovative solutions to prevent hackers from stealing critical information. There is also the growing usage of cloud services by small- and mid-sized businesses, which is increasing the need for information security analysts. The health care industry also has been expanding its use of electronic medical records, likewise creating a higher demand for analysts to create safeguards and protect personal patient information, according to the bureau. 

As the industry is projected to grow, Brian and Kim Rist and the Rist Family Foundation made a $2 million commitment to Florida SouthWestern State College to establish the Rist Cyber Institute within the college’s School of Business and Technology. This $2 million commitment will be used to enhance the cybersecurity program, including equipment, technology and additional instructional staff. The Rist Cyber Institute also will house two computer labs, a hardware/software lab, a maker space for students to experience new technology and a cyber room, FSW officials said. 

“The Cybersecurity program at FSW will increase the skill level of students entering the ever-growing cybersecurity workforce in Southwest Florida,” says FSW School of Business and Technology Dean Mary Myers. The program also will give the college the opportunity to offer continuing education for IT practitioners in the field. 

The new program was approved by the curriculum committee and will launch in fall 2022. The curriculum for this program is defense-oriented, Myers said, meaning students will learn how to protect servers, routers and networks. The advisory community board discussed needs in the community and in the workforce, and one of the biggest current needs is for cybersecurity workers, which led to FSW adding this program. 

Myers believes the industry is growing so much because almost everything we use now is a smart device connected to the internet. “The opportunities for hacking are growing, growing, growing,” she says. People are used to turning on their phones without anything bad happening, but the people who work in cybersecurity are the ones making sure nothing bad happens and protecting our community, she said.

The Rists are honored to be a part of the growing innovative programs at FSW. They also are supporting FSW’s Respiratory Care Program with a $500,000 commitment. “We feel the need to support programs like the cybersecurity program,” says Brian Rist. “It gives young adults the opportunity to use their specialized skill sets that aren’t typical in other programs offered. Our hopes are for these students to stay local and be beneficial to the Southwest Florida community.” 

Because of this funding, FSW will be able to offer experiences to its students that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. “This is like putting icing on the cake,” Myers says. Instead of just having schoolwork and curriculum, students will now be able to attend cyber conferences and competitions, and hear from industry leaders. 

It’s generous donors like the Rists who have allowed FSW to expand and serve the Southwest Florida community and workforce for more than 60 years, said FSW President Jeff Allbritten. 

“As the world continues to change, and the skills and technology needed to keep up with these changes continue to evolve, it will be these generous FSW supporters who will continue to help us provide the world-class learning environment that our local workforce needs,” Allbritten says. 

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