BIG STONE GAP, Va. (WJHL) — Mountain Empire Community College (MECC) is now an accredited National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense by the National Security Agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the college announced on Thursday.

Out of 23 community colleges in Virginia, MECC becomes one of nine institutions to carry the accreditation.

“National Security Agency and U.S. Department of Homeland Security recognition as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense signifies that MECC has created a strong cybersecurity educational program,” said MECC President Kristen Westover. “Producing the technology talent necessary to fill positions in cybersecurity within our region as well as attracting new businesses requiring this talent to the region.”

Due to this recognition, MECC is eligible for federal funding opportunities reserved for CAE-CD colleges. The new status confirms a cybersecurity curriculum worthy of the United States’ largest employers, MECC stated in a release.

Ritchie Deel, MECC Cybersecurity professor and Chief Information Officer, stated the accreditation represents diligence in developing the program and overall effort by Southwest Virginia colleges to bring technology companies to the region.

“We started our cybersecurity program back in 2016 with grant funding backed by the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission,” Deel said. “Since then, we’ve made sure to leverage that opportunity by building a program that signals that there is technology talent in Southwest Virginia for those companies that are interested in the area.”

For more information on the program, click here.