The prospects of Williamson County students joining the cutting edge in informational technology education became more tangible Thursday.
The county signed a memorandum of understanding with Columbia State Community College to co-sponsor the use of a mobile cyber security unit that will serve the students at area public high schools.
The unit comes through a GIVE Grant with the state and furthers Gov. Bill Lee's call to push more vocational efforts in the classroom (hence the acronym, GIVE -- Governor's Investment in Vocational Education).
The total grant is allocating $25 million across the state, per Dr. Dearl Lampley, Columbia State's VP for the school's Williamson Campus and VP for Student Affairs.
"When we won, we were kind of surprised we got it," Lampley joked at the signing.
"This was about need... workforce need," Lampley continued for why the venture came to be. "There are 1,500 available IT jobs in this county every day. Getting students to select IT as a career is a difficult chore, as we've seen with other ventures."
Showing those jobs available was a part of the grant pitch.
He also mentioned the lack of faculty at the high school level as widening the gap for the jobs available and eligible candidates.
Lampley said there is a sharing of instructors to help increase the workforce area in the IT field.
WCS came to Columbia State about the proposal, which led to Thursday's signing ceremony and allotted funds for the unit.
"It was completely out-of-the-box, something so different that would give us a shot at getting it," said Jeremy Qualls, the county's Executive Director of CTE, of the grant's proposal.
Qualls describes the mobile cyber security unit as a "Transformer."
"It's a 53-foot, double-standard tractor trailer, if you will, that will go around to each of our high schools once we get it all put together," Qualls said. "It's going to open up to about a thousand square feet."
Qualls said the unit itself will have the technology available to teach students hacking and security efforts in the IT realm and could also pave the way for WCS hackathons, which involve software-based competitions for computer programmers.
"[The unit] will be the carrot at the end of the coursework that will get kids excited," he said.
Tractor Supply Company, based in Brentwood, is also joining the endeavor as a co-sponsor.
WCS Superintendent Jason Golden said he feels the union with Columbia State and TSC shows the school living up to the standards of its peers.
"One of the things we've learned from our benchmarking districts is we can't innovate, and we can't grow, and we can't look for new things without developing relationship hubs in our community," he said. "So I'm very excited about this example."