Liberty Science Center
Liberty Science Center

Bank of America is partnering with Liberty Science Center starting this fall to offer students at James J. Ferris High School in Jersey City the opportunity to learn basic cybersecurity skills and immediately upon graduation take entry-level jobs at the bank in “emerging technologies.” Students at Memorial High School in West New York are being made the same offer.

Citing a recent series of massive cyberattacks and a “significant dearth of trained individuals to meet this urgency,” Bank of America New Jersey President Alberto Garofalo, said:

While a number of prestigious universities … have recently created baccalaureate, graduate, and professional education programs to fill the tremendous need, Liberty Science Center’s SciTech Scity in Jersey City and Bank of America are taking an innovative approach: They are reaching into the high school ranks. … Our goals … include addressing minority scholarship, professional training programs, and curriculum building to help ensure student success while also uplifting underserved communities through workforce development.”

Called “High Schools of the Future,” the joint program will be part of a pilot that has been in the works for 18 months. The pilot’s success will require site visits and ongoing support from LSC, so the architects of the project limited the search for participating schools to those within Hudson County, according to the program’s press materials. Ferris and Memorial were chosen because their leaders were particularly enthusiastic about the opportunity, a spokesperson said. Approximately two dozen 11th graders per school will be offered spots.

“According to the National Center for Education Statistics, young adults with bachelor’s or higher degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) tend to have more positive economic outcomes. However, the percentage of Hispanic, Pacific Island, and African American students with STEM degrees tends to be much lower than other races/ethnicities,” said Deneen Alford, principal of Ferris High School. “My student population … is very diverse. My goal is to create well-rounded citizens with a social conscience that enables them to serve the community and meet the challenges of an ever-changing world.”

Clara Brito Herrera, superintendent of West New York Schools, echoed these sentiments saying, “The West New York School District is committed to inspiring students and providing them with the skills necessary to fill the careers of the 21st century. This partnership is a great opportunity for our students pursuing careers in this emerging STEM job market.”

While the exact curriculum the students will be taught remains to be determined, in the first year of the two-year program, students will learn “soft skills” and digital tools; in year two they will cover technical skills and “the foundations of cybersecurity.” The Society for Human Resource Management defines soft skills as “behaviors, personality traits, and work habits, such as collaboration, critical thinking, perseverance, and communication, that help people prosper at work.”

Paul Hoffman, president and CEO of Liberty Science Center, summed up his institution’s interest in the program: “Since our inception more than 25 years ago, one of our primary goals has been to be a catalyst for improved student STEM learning in New Jersey’s most underserved communities. … The pilot program in cybersecurity is a natural first step in fulfilling this mission,”

But the idea behind High Schools of the Future doesn’t end with Hudson County, and it doesn’t end with cybersecurity. Says the program’s publicist, LSC and BoA are seeking other “high-employment companies” in New Jersey to develop “a STEM job-readiness program that can be scaled up to other high schools across New Jersey and even the rest of the country.” They are “focused on providing their students with the skills and training needed to prepare them for what have been termed ‘new collar’ jobs, those in emerging technology fields…. The initial focus will be on cybersecurity, and jobs in cybersecurity that don’t require extensive coding skills.” Down the road, the educators will add training in the financial services and energy industries, according to press materials.

If all of this sounds wonderfully idealistic, Hoffman explained that participating companies stand to save on both recruiting and training costs.

The program will be targeted to 11th grade students who intend to enter the workforce immediately upon graduation (with academic performance a consideration but not a barrier to participation). Neither Bank of America nor Liberty Science Center when asked provided a definition of “successful” program completion. Bank of America also declined to identify sample job titles and salary ranges of the jobs it is committing to offer.

Liberty Science Center offshoot SciTech Scity is a campus on which companies and researchers test — and residents and visitors experience — new high-tech products and services before they come to market.

The High Schools of the Future advisory panel includes members from the spheres of public school administration, for-profit consulting, public policy, and corporate human resources, among others.

Teachers from Ferris and Memorial High schools will be amongst those teaching (and later revising) the pilot curriculum.

Bank of America is not offering this program anywhere else.

Interested students or parents should contact Dr. Kara Mann at kmann@lsc.org.

Elizabeth Morrill

Deputy Editor Elizabeth Morrill has worked in business, not for profit fundraising and as a freelance copy editor. She holds degrees in American studies and education from Yale and Harvard.