Norfolk, Virginia

February 28, 2024

Remarks As Prepared for Delivery

It’s an honor to be here today. Thank you, Dr. DoVeanna Fulton and the team here at Norfolk State University, for hosting this important roundtable during Black History Month.

I also want to recognize and thank Dr. Aurelia Williams for her warm welcome, and for her exceptional leadership of the cyber program here at NSU.

And I want to thank leaders from HBCUs across the nation for coming to Norfolk today – and those of you who are joining us virtually.

I want to acknowledge representatives from the offices of Senator Warner, Senator Kaine, and Representative Bobby Scott who are joining us throughout the day. We are always grateful for support from our partners in Congress.

I know I speak for myself and my White House colleague, Dr. Arthur McMahan, the Senior Associate Director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs, when I say that supporting HBCUs, the students they enroll, and the workforce they employ is a priority of the Biden-Harris Administration. You are all doing important work, and we’re really pleased to be here.

I’m here today because Norfolk State has been a pioneer – helping expand opportunities for students in the cyber workforce here in Virginia and across the country. And I wanted to come and see for myself what was working well – and what we need to do better. We want to learn from you and help spread best practices across the nation.

I had the chance to meet with some exceptional students this morning. They remind me that the future of our profession, and of our Great Nation, is bright.

Cybersecurity presents a challenge and opportunity.

The challenge — we are experiencing an unacceptable number of cyberattacks, and we need more people entering the cybersecurity profession. We need more people to help us fill the half a million open cybersecurity positions across the nation.

But here is the opportunity — we have an abundance of talented individuals – including students at HBCUs – who can help us meet that need. They can enter a career field that – whether you work in government or in the private sector – helps secure our nation. A career with purpose. A career that offers a good-paying, middle-class job.

But taking advantage of this opportunity will take an authentic, collaborative approach. It requires unprecedented coordination among academic institutions, employers, nonprofits and incubators, and the Federal Government.

It requires a whole host of solutions that challenge how we think about training the next generation of cyber talent.

It requires us to reach out to communities that haven’t traditionally been recruited – nor have they seen themselves in cybersecurity or technology.

Black Americans, women, and other minority communities are particularly underrepresented in cyber jobs. In fact, while Black Americans make up 12% of the workforce, they only make up 8% of the technology workforce.

The untapped skill and potential of these groups act like an anchor holding back the economy.

There are many ways that people talk about diversity in the workforce – and in cybersecurity – but here’s my take. In order to achieve the best mission outcomes, we need the best possible team. Let me say that again – in order to achieve the best mission outcomes, we need the best possible team – meaning we can’t do this without you.

The only way we can defend the digital systems that lay the foundation for our modern way of life is to be sure that every American and people from every community have a pathway into a cyber-based career. 

So how can we ensure that more people who reflect America’s rich diversity have an opportunity to see themselves in cyber? It will take many partners. I know that the incredible talent you all train, foster, and empower at HBCUs are one of many groups I’d like to see join our ranks in cybersecurity.

This Black History Month, I’ve been reflecting on the history of some of our nation’s most vital institutions. Historically Black Colleges and Universities were founded in the face of discrimination and yet managed to forge powerful legacies and remarkable achievements.

Today, like I’ve seen so many times before – HBCUs foster academic excellence around our country and serve as a ladder for opportunities for the Black community.

For example, our Vice President, Kamala Harris is the first HBCU graduate to hold that position. My predecessor Kemba Walden is also an HBCU grad. She went to Hampton.

Two examples of the incredible talent and leadership your institutions foster every day.

We need to make sure HBCUs are getting the full support you all need. And there are several ways this Administration is doing that.

The White House initiative on HBCUs has committed to include a series of cyber education workshops at their annual HBCU symposium this fall.

Our partners at the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration – or NTIA – started the Connected Minority Communities Pilot Program. They have already awarded grants to 43 HBCUs totaling more than $130 million. These awards help HBCUs provide high-speed Internet service throughout their campuses, including in many historical buildings that have been unserved or underserved.

Right here at NSU, you all are using that funding to build a state-of-the-art wireless network that reaches all parts of campus. That’s a game-changer for your students and everyone at your school.

We need to get everyone connected. Next, we need to help get folks employed.

The Department of Labor has awarded approximately $108 million through grants and contracts to expand Registered Apprenticeships in high-growth and in-demand industries, including IT and Cyber, that benefit underrepresented populations, including the Black community. Last week, they announced the availability of an additional $200 million in grants.

The funding opportunities announced continue the Department of Labor’s commitment to providing all of America’s workers with access to training and career preparation that lead to good jobs being created by President Biden’s Investing in America agenda.  

The National Science Foundation’s CyberCorps Scholarship for Service provides scholarships for up to three years of support for cybersecurity undergraduate and graduate education for students who intend to serve in the U.S. government after graduation. In recent years, two new HBCUs have joined the program – Morgan State and Bowie State.  

I’m here today to spotlight one particular program that will have a powerful impact on the ability to give your students opportunities in cybersecurity – the ability to become accredited as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity, or C-A-E.

This program is run by the National Security Agency, and I’m pleased that my colleagues from the NSA and the Candidate Center are here to help foster a discussion about how more HBCUs can obtain CAE designation.

Here’s my quick plug – with this Center of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity designation, your school and your students will have access to enhanced curricula, more career services, and more scholarship opportunities.

You’ll be in a network of like-minded schools. And – importantly – you’ll be able to unlock more federal resources.

With the addition of Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, (they are joining us online), the NSA has designated 17 of the 107 HBCUs in our country as Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense.

During the Biden-Harris Administration, 7 of those 17 HBCUs have received the CAE designation, the most rapid expansion to date. This achievement is something to celebrate. And to build upon.

But you don’t have to hear the sales pitch from me. I couldn’t be more grateful to Dr. Williams from NSU for helping us understand how they became a CAE designated institution, what that journey was like, and how it’s helped her students.

And I’m so glad we’ll hear from experts at the CAE Candidates National Center who can serve as your go-to resource in your journey. Let’s all learn from them. And, I hope more of the schools represented in this room today will seek the CAE designation.

I mentioned before that solving the challenge and taking advantage of the opportunity to fill the half a million cyber jobs in this nation will require unprecedented coordination across the public and private sectors, employers, schools, the Federal Government, and more.

The spirit of collaboration is exactly how we address this challenge in the White House. Last July, we published and immediately started implementing the Nation’s Cyber Workforce and Education Strategy.

We aim to:

Shift towards a skills-based approach to hiring;

Encourage lifelong cyber skills development; and

Expand cyber opportunities to all Americans, regardless of background.

In response to these three clear goals, over the course of the last year, more than 70 organizations have committed to reducing barriers many Americans may have encountered by providing training, scholarships, internships and apprenticeships, and pledging to create and hire for new cyber jobs. 

Today in Norfolk, I want to highlight some new commitments:

BCR Cyber commits to training and placing 3,000 entry-level IT and cyber workers into jobs with state, local and industry partners in the next two years.

The Black Cybersecurity Association (BCA) commits to securing gainful employment in cybersecurity for 300 African-Americans in calendar year 2024.

The Minority Technology Foundation commits to providing accessible and comprehensive cyber education to more than 500 youth and young adults over the next 24 months.

VetSec commits to help active-duty reservists, Veterans, and members of the Guard transition to meaningful employment – with good jobs in cyber – by the end of 2025.

And IBM is committing to help students and faculty at 20 HBCUs by providing course work lectures, immersive training experiences, certifications, and more at no cost.

Everywhere I go, I’m seeing organizations step up to help us meet the challenge.

Let me close with a reminder of the importance of our mission.

We defend cyberspace not because it is some distant terrain on which we battle our adversaries. We defend cyberspace because it is interwoven into our very lives. We defend cyberspace because it underpins the critical systems that enable us to work, live, and play. We defend cyberspace because it is a matter of national security.

Together, we will address cyber workforce demands, build long-term workforce capacity, and position all Americans to benefit from the enormous potential of our interconnected future.

I look forward to learning from you, working with you, and engaging in the great discussion to follow.

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