Natalie Walden, CTE Cybersecurity teacher (standing) and several students (sitting) in a classroom at Potomac High SchoolCybersecurity is an evolving, fast-growing industry, and careers in the field are in high demand. Potomac High School's four-year Cybersecurity Career and Technical Education Specialty Program prepares students to enter a cybersecurity career after high school or enroll in a variety of post-secondary training or college degree programs. Students are prepared for and may elect to take the Microsoft Technology Associates (MTA) industry exams to earn certifications in the field. Thanks to Natalie Walden, cybersecurity instructor at Potomac High, who uses real-world scenarios to make her lessons interesting and engaging, a number of students are taking advantage of this opportunity.

"The need for personal and professional cybersecurity skills has never been greater," said Walden. "Our Cybersecurity Systems Technology courses explore cybersecurity careers, human weaknesses, cyber hygiene, threats, and vulnerabilities in real-life situations, as well as a variety of technologies including virtual machine ware like that provided by the Virginia Cyber Range through Virginia Tech. Advanced Cybersecurity students are candidates to take the MTA industry exam for certification. This exam serves to test fundamental security knowledge and skills assessment, while serving as a steppingstone to secure entry-level employment as well as to continue on the pathway to a degree in cybersecurity in a higher education setting."

Shayan Khan, who began the program as a freshman and is now a junior currently in Walden's advanced cybersecurity class, is one of the students who took the initiative to earn certifications. In the spring he took the CompTIA A+ 1001, and took the 1002-level exam during the summer. He said he used every resource at his disposal to prepare and practice and he literally jumped for joy when he passed the first test. He took extra time studying for the second level, knowing it would be a little harder, but he passed that as well. He is slated to take the remaining exams this academic year to complete the series.

"I'm Comp TIA A+ certified now," Khan stated proudly. "I'm actually grateful that we have this class. Without it I'm not sure if I would be getting into cybersecurity like I am. This really sparked my interest, as did the previous courses. I've really networked with my classmates; some of whom I've known for two or three years. [In class] we all have roles to put ourselves into a business environment, because this is also technically a business class as well. Through our experiences in the class, we learn to better each other and talk to each other if we don't understand things."

The CompTIA A+ is known as the desired qualification for those in technical support and an industry standard for careers in information technology. Once he graduates, Khan looks forward to continuing his education in this field. For now, he is keeping his options open and exploring all possibilities, from local universities like Virginia Tech to more ambitious, and distant, choices like CalTech or Harvard, just in case they may want him.

The Cybersecurity Specialty Program is one of the school division's Career and Technical Education (CTE) High School Transfer Programs. Rising 9th-11th grade students may apply to CTE programs at their base school or as a full-time transfer student.