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All the way in Alaska, meet the state’s first-ever cyber security apprentice

You’ve heard our expression from here, go anywhere? Ursula Jones is anywhere – i.e., Juneau, Alaska, to be exact. She’s also a Tidewater Community College student who is the first cyber security apprentice in the state of Virginia.

“Apprenticeship is not impossible, even if you live in Timbuktu,” quipped Jones, a Juneau native who works as a cyber security analyst II at Peregrine Technical Solutions LLC, a company based in Yorktown that has employees in every state. “People need to start thinking more outside the box.”

Apprenticeship, an “earn-while-you-learn” approach to education, isn’t just ideal for candidates straight out of high school or in their 20s. After 23 years in federal service, Jones decided she needed a more stimulating job, but she wasn’t excited about racking up student loan debt.

Apprenticeship made the most sense.

As an apprentice, she doesn’t need to worry about debt; in fact, she earns a salary and benefits. Plus, the company foots the bill for her to complete classes online for TCC’s Career Studies Certificate in Cyber Security.

TCC is a National Security Agency Center of Academic Excellence, as designated by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. The designation recognizes the college as a national model in cyber security. Students who earn the cyber security certificate can apply their credits toward an Associate of Applied Science in Information Technology.

Partnering with the college to create a cyber apprenticeship is an investment in his own workforce, said Peregrine President, Leigh Armistead.

“The task is to assure the confidentially, integrity and availability of information technology assets,” he said. “The apprentice must train and continue to be on top of their game because their adversaries are constantly improving and will be sure to be on top of theirs.”

It’s just the type of challenge Jones wanted. “Changing professions mid-career was a leap of faith and, I have to admit, it made me a little nervous.,” she said. “Leaving a secure career and moving into information technology had its risks, but the rewards have made the career change worth it.”

Cyber security is a booming field with a global shortage of two million cyber security professionals predicted for 2019, according to ISACA, a nonprofit information security advocacy group.

“It is great to have a mid-career candidate as Ursula is unusually efficient due to her ‘can-do’ attitude,” said Armistead, also a member of the TCC Workforce Advisory Board. “She efficiently solves problems, a capability that is at the core of her success.”

Before Jones completes the apprenticeship, ideally in May, she will have completed multiple information technology certifications – each of which will advance her in pay scale.

“No matter what lies ahead, I couldn’t have felt better about my decision to leave federal service and work for Peregrine,” she said.

Contact TCC’s Karen Miller to explore apprenticeship opportunities at

The byte-by-byte breakdown of a career you can jumpstart with just a certificate

Look around you or better yet, stare at your phone. It’s full of data. So is the grocery store you shop in, the college you attend and that company you hope to work for. Check your social media accounts and you’ve no doubt noticed advertisements targeted to your tendencies – that’s information gleaned from mining data.

Now imagine making a career in data. Pursue a Career Studies Certificate in Database Specialist at Tidewater Community College and you’ll be part of a growing field that relates to data management in any industry.

Business databases store vast amounts of information and rely on it to make smart decisions. Database specialists are proficient in designing, implementing, maintaining and troubleshooting all that information into an efficient, usable form. They are also responsible for ensuring that data is protected in an age where hacking is prevalent.

Mary Gable
Instructor Mary Gable with student Jessica Tate

Lemuel Taku earned his database specialist certificate last spring and is already employed as an Oracle application developer for a resort in Alabama. While he is working toward his Associate of Applied Science in Information Technology from TCC by taking online classes, he is happy by how fast he was able to earn the certificate that led to his job.

The 27- or 28-credit certificate, dependent upon which elective you choose, can be earned in as little as two semesters. Classes are either in the evening at the Virginia Beach Campus or online.

Key for Taku and for any student looking to get a leg up, said instructor Mary Gable, are the industry certifications that the certificates prepares students for.

“That’s what employers are looking for,” Gable said. “Every course in this program is 100 percent hands-on.”

Graduates of the program are prepared to sit for Oracle Database 11g Administrator Certified Associate (OCA Administrator); Oracle Database SQL Certified Expert; and Oracle PL/SQL Developer Certified Associate (OCA Developer).

Taku passed all of them. He got a boost from taking advantage of free software TCC provides that allows students to answer practice questions to prepare for the exams.

TCC students also receive discounts on each of the exams.

Lamuel Taku

During the program, students will learn to install an Oracle Database and have access to it throughout the semester. One of the electives covers installation and the study of other databases, both MySQL and SQL Server. Gable also encourages students to install the database on their laptops so they can work on assignments at home.

Two classes she touts are ITD 132, Structured Query Language, and ITD 251, Database Systems Development. In the 132 class, students learn SQL, a generic language that Gable said is transferrable to multiple databases in the information technology fields. The 251 class is a capstone project course that allows students to work together as a team to complete a project to apply what they’ve learned to a real-world problem. Both Dominion Enterprises and a local cybersecurity firm, G2OPS, have served as former clients.

“I was able to bring that up in my interview, and it helped me a lot,” said Taku, whose project focused on security compliance.

For information about the program, contact Gable at or Bill Clement, dean of the Division of Information Technology and Business, at