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Jackson State University (JSU) announced in July that the historically Black college and university (HBCU) had partnered with Microsoft to jumpstart the company’s TechSpark initiative.

According to JSU Communications, present at the launch were Wilbur Walters, dean of the College of Science, Engineering, and Technology (CSET) at Jackson State;  Deborah Dent, JSU’s chief information officer, and JJ Townsend, a Mississippi native and Microsoft representative in the state. (Photo credit: Jon Repp/Microsoft).

“Lifelong Mississippian and Jackson resident JJ Townsend will spearhead this effort,” wrote Kate Behncken, vice president and head of Microsoft Philanthropies, in a blog post announcing Microsoft TechSpark’s expansion to Jackson, Mississippi. “JJ is a Teach for America alum. He helped launch Microsoft’s Technology, Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program in Jackson to support high schools in building computer science education access to students.”

JSU’s new program will recruit and train at least 100 students in the field of cybersecurity, exposing them to internship opportunities that provide them with practical, real-world experiences. A primary focus of the initiative is collaborating with partners on digital skills training, job opportunities, and industry-relevant computer science education.

“It is important that HBCU students receive training in cybersecurity readiness to assist in protecting their personal information as well as the universities information and networks,” April Tanner, CSET associate professor of computer science, said in a statement. “Understanding malware and other types of cyberattacks, and being able to identify them make the University’s networks more secure and less vulnerable to compromise.”

JSU also reported  Behncken’s hope to work with local partners, including JSU, to equip the Jackson, Mississippi,  community with strong digital skills that positively impact economic growth and recovery.

“As Mississippi’s most populous city, Jackson has vibrant deep cultural and historic roots. But we also know the longstanding barriers to opportunity continue to persist,” Behncken said. “As we have learned across our TechSpark regions, technology is rapidly changing our economy including how we communicate, learn, work, and access health care and other essential services, creating opportunities as well as challenges. Jackson, Mississippi is not immune from these changes.”

Jacqueline Jackson, also an associate professor of computer science at JSU, emphasized how the expanding world of digital processing and communication has shifted the battlefield in the war for digital privacy and data protection.

“We are living in an age where war is no longer being solely fought on a physical battlefield. Attacks against our wellbeing now occur through cyberattacks,” says Jackson, “In order to protect our critical infrastructure, we need to continue to develop a workforce skilled in the techniques and tools of cybersecurity.”

As the program continues to increase in both capacity and curriculum, Jackson and her fellow CSET professors look forward to providing students with access to academic and professional development opportunities in areas of critical importance to the world today.

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