COLLEGE STATION – The Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) has developed a student training portal featuring a custom catalog for Arkansas, which will provide state employees with easy access to DHS/FEMA-funded cybersecurity courses online.
The new site was rolled out in December to more than 7,700 employees in the Arkansas Department of Human Services. Hosted on the employee intranet, the portal links to 10 online cybersecurity courses offered by TEEX at no charge through the DHS/FEMA Homeland Security Cooperative Agreement.
Employees are being encouraged to take all of the courses, but certain courses will be mandatory, says Chief Information Security Officer Mark Riley, with the Arkansas Department of Human Services. Riley says the online cybersecurity training will be required for contractors and state employees in certain IT positions, adding that they will provide continuing education and also meet certain federal requirements. TEEX will provide a report to Arkansas each month on course completions.
“This is a very good step and it will save us money,” Riley said. “There is really good information there, and if our employees understand it, they will become better employees overall. If they understand the process and the reasons for IT control measures, they are less likely to try to go around the controls. The managers think this training is very beneficial. It’s about education, and I’m a strong believer in education.”
Although the Department of Human Services is piloting the cybersecurity training, Riley anticipates other Arkansas state agencies may also tap into this training.
“Arkansas has paved the way for us to offer this training through a customized web portal to every state in the nation,” said Carla Collins, TEEX Cybersecurity Program Director.
“I would absolutely recommend this to Information Security agencies in other states,” Riley added. “This (training) has everything you need to get started. If you need to get an information security program off the ground, it is absolutely perfect. Several courses go well beyond the basics, yet they are easy to understand. Then, if they want further training, they could attend more in-depth classes.”
The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Arkansas and the development of the custom catalog was accomplished through an internal collaboration in TEEX between the Cybersecurity Program in Knowledge Engineering, the Enterprise Systems team in Network and Information Services (NIS) and the Communications Department. “This collaboration within the agency and between TEEX and the customer was key to successfully meeting the needs of the Arkansas Department of Human Services,” Collins said.
“TEEX was great to work with and the final product is top-notch,” Riley said. “They listened and were always ready to move forward. Once I got the information to them, they provided a fast turnaround.”
NIS Program Manager Lauri Brender added: “We had the online cybersecurity courses available through our new student portal in the early fall, but needed a large customer base to test our application. The NIS Enterprise Systems team was excited to have Arkansas as the first pilot group. We were able to provide a customized student training portal for Arkansas, and their feedback will give us the opportunity to improve and enhance the portal before we roll it out nationwide.” Brender also commended Chris Grimes of NIS, who designed the architecture to support the student portal, and many others who have been involved in the collaborative project.