BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – Northeast State Community College (NESCC) officials announced a six-figure grant from the Department of Labor on Thursday, and administrators plan to use it to build a cutting-edge cybersecurity program in the region.

The $1.6 million in funds come from the Strengthening College Training program, and a release from the school said it was one of 13 institutions across the country to receive funding.

The funds will help build up the school’s existing computer information technology program, and can be used for outreach, updating coaching programs and creating a new, competitive cybersecurity program.

“The grant will provide an excellent computer science opportunity for first-generation college students and students of color,” said Dr. Donna Farrell, dean of the college’s Technologies Division. “The grant also allows the College to strengthen its current computer science programs and offer the region and state a unique facility for combatting cyber-crime.”

A new cybersecurity program would allow NESCC students to simulate attacking electronic targets and defending against attackers in a controlled environment. Giving students experience in both offense and defense would create well-rounded professionals for an evolving digital world.

“It’s something that happens everywhere, whether you’re in a hospital, if you’re in a financial institution,” Dr. Farrell said. “You need people that are capable of identifying any threats and being able to prevent those.”

To keep their security tight and prevent practice malware from spreading across campus, the cybersecurity spaces would be run on a different network than that accessed by other students and staff.

“Our goal is to be able to bring companies in,” Dr. Farrell said. “Teach them how to protect themselves against attacks, but as well teach them how those attacks are actually done.”

The program’s next steps include hiring a director and staff, selecting an outside program evaluator and determining the program’s space needs. The release said it will be housed in the Technical Education Complex in NESCC’s Blountville campus, which already houses around 114,000 square feet of technical spaces like welding labs, electrical workshops, racing simulation space, machine shops and a pro-level entertainment production space.