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Inside the IT Academy

Academy’s Pathway to Cybersecurity program at STCC.

April Bellafiore teaches the IT Academy’s Pathway to Cybersecurity program at STCC.

The IT Academy at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) is a “life changer” for Juan Burgos.

Echoing comments from other students enrolled in the IT Academy at STCC, Burgos said he’s excited to be working toward certifications that are tickets to good-paying jobs in the cybersecurity industry. Students in the first cohort, held this spring, are enrolled for free, supported by a grant.

“This opportunity came up, and I jumped on it,” Burgos said one Wednesday afternoon at STCC, where he was seated in a classroom with the other students. “This is a life changer. This is going to change everything.”

Launched on March 12, the IT Academy’s Pathway to Cybersecurity program at STCC supports non-traditional students who are new to information technology (IT) and computer technology. They are learning skills that set them up for entry-level IT careers. Students also have the option of moving into the two-year Cybersecurity program, which can lead to an associate degree.

The comprehensive curriculum combines theoretical knowledge with practical, hands-on experience. The program includes a part-time option running classes three evenings a week for nine months. A summer and winter boot camp will be offered that runs for 10 weeks (full-time day program), which allows students to attend classes five days a week.

Eventually, students who follow the cybersecurity track will use the Richard E. Neal Cybersecurity Center of Excellence in Springfield, scheduled to open later this year. The facility will serve as a dynamic hub for advancing cybersecurity awareness, education, innovation, and battling global security threats.

“This opportunity came up, and I jumped on it. This is a life changer. This is going to change everything.”

The 6,000-square-foot facility will include a cyber range, which is a simulated training environment, and security operations center, which is envisioned as a support service for Massachusetts municipalities, as well as regional businesses, to detect cybersecurity events in real time and respond quickly.

STCC offers a number of training opportunities through its Workforce Development division, from a free program that prepares students to be paraeducators in Springfield to the Hampden Prep program, which provides basic computer skill training.

“We are excited to offer a wide range of training programs that help non-traditional students pursue their dream careers,” said Gladys Franco, assistant vice president of Workforce Development at STCC. “Our goal is to make it easier for people looking to get started in a career. We’re particularly excited about the IT Academy, which provides a pathway to build a career in IT and cybersecurity. It’s a growing field with many opportunities.”

 

Immersive Education

Students in the Pathway to Cybersecurity program are learning in person in a classroom taught by April Bellafiore, Cruz Antonio Pagan, and Andrew Collins, a professor for the Cybersecurity program at STCC.

Students also participate in interactive computer training labs focused on obtaining CompTIA certifications, which are industry standards that IT professionals can use to demonstrate their knowledge and skills to potential employers.

The training is “beginner-friendly,” Bellafiore said. The course provides students with skills to be successful in the Cybersecurity program and in the workforce.

Students enrolled in the course come from a variety of backgrounds. Shelby Kiendzior graduated from STCC with a degree in dental hygiene and worked in the field, but plans on changing her career.

“We are excited to offer a wide range of training programs that help non-traditional students pursue their dream careers.”

“I will be getting four certifications in different IT-related courses,” Kiendzior said. “This course will set me up for where I want to go in IT or tech.”

Luz Padilla, who hails from Puerto Rico, called the IT Academy “the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

She added, “I love computers. I love troubleshooting, and I would like to work in homeland security someday. The class is amazing. The teacher’s great. I got a lot of encouragement from everybody here, especially Miss April.”

She was referring to Bellafiore, an instructor who has taught in-person and online courses for more than 20 years.

“I am excited to work with the IT Academy students to prepare them for a dynamic and exciting industry,” Bellafiore said. “We also encourage students to continue their education and apply for the STCC Cybersecurity two-year degree program. In today’s digital age, every industry relies on IT expertise. It’s a growing field with many rewarding and diverse job opportunities.”