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Palo Alto Networks Cyber Scholars Program Continues to Grow

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By: Anthony Tuttle, Social Impact Program Manager

Palo Alto Networks is deeply committed to building an inclusive and diverse cyber workforce. From cyber professionals to university students to global K-12 youth, enabling the next generation to protect our digital way of life is critical to keeping us all safe. Innovation requires diversity of thought and diversity of lived experiences to be successful, and cybersecurity is a field where all are welcome.

Prem Iyer, Senior Vice President of Global Ecosystems at Palo Alto Networks, said it best in a recent article on “Bringing diverse groups of people together [to solve hard challenges] is the backbone of our industry. Unfortunately, there is systemic inequity throughout the industry and underrepresented groups often continue to be overlooked.” However, simply building a bigger talent pipeline isn’t exactly easy, and it also isn’t enough; not only is there a huge workforce shortage, but to be successful we need to intentionally seek out and welcome communities that have traditionally been underrepresented in tech. 

In 2020, Palo Alto Networks launched our Cyber STARS program which seeks to bridge the digital divide and create opportunity for underrepresented students – particularly in the Black community – by increasing exposure, access, and support that allows them to pursue their interests in cyber through education and mentorship. In 2022, we expanded upon this program to launch our Cyber Scholars initiative, which provides academic support, training, and mentorship for individuals from traditionally underrepresented communities who are pursuing cybersecurity careers. In partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) for the 2022-2023 academic year, we identified and awarded scholarships to 14 students at 11 different Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs). For the 2023-2024 academic year, we are thrilled to share that our second TMCF Cyber Scholars cohort includes 14 students majoring in tech-related STEM disciplines at eight different HBCUs and PBIs. 

This year in addition to continuing our partnership with TMCF we’re also extending our Cyber Scholars program to include Latin American and Hispanic communities. Not all communities experience the same challenges the same way; systemic barriers to accessing (or being able to afford) higher education and opportunities to break into new industries vary from community to community, and the same challenge can be experienced differently from one group to the next. With the help and input of our JUNTOS! Latinx employee network group, we purposefully sought to identify partner organizations that provide meaningful support for and help address some of the unique challenges facing the Latin community in various ways:

  • Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU): For the 2023-2024 academic year, students studying tech-related STEM and business disciplines at HACU-member Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) are eligible to apply for our scholarship program, which offers $5,000 in “last mile funding” to help students complete their degree program(s). Students graduating in Spring/Summer 2024 are highly encouraged to apply.
  • Raíces Cyber: Beginning in Fall 2023, individuals seeking to obtain an entry-level cybersecurity certification to help launch their cyber career can apply to receive free training and academic support through the Raíces Cyber Academy.
  • José M. Hernández Reaching for the Stars Foundation: Graduating high school seniors who complete the Reaching for the Stars Foundation’s STEM Summer Academy program and are passionate about pursuing careers in STEM are eligible to receive micro scholarships that help advance their career goals.

In the same way that there is no single pathway to beginning your career in cybersecurity, there is also no single solution to providing equitable access to opportunity. For the upcoming academic year, we’re eager and excited to provide meaningful support for both “traditional” and “non-traditional” students pursuing careers in tech. The more we drive awareness for all the skills, diversity of thought, and diversity of lived experiences needed to keep our world safe each day, the better we can prepare the cyber workforce of today and tomorrow.

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