Laurel Ridge chosen for U.S. Cyber Command’s Academic Engagement Network

For Immediate Release:
March 3, 2022

Primary Media Contact:
Sally Voth
Public Relations Specialist
[email protected]
Phone: 540-868-7134

U.S. Cyber Command
CYBERCOM'S duties include defending U.S. Department of Defense information systems and protecting the U.S. against cyberattack in collaboration with domestic and international partners.

Laurel Ridge is one of just 14 community colleges nationwide to be selected to join the U.S. Cyber Command’s (CYBERCOM) Academic Engagement Network.

Established in 2010, CYBERCOM is co-located with the National Security Agency (NSA) at Ft. Meade, Md. Its duties include defending U.S. Department of Defense information systems and protecting the U.S. against cyberattack in collaboration with domestic and international partners.

A total of 92 colleges and universities are part of the network whose mission is to support and enhance CYBERCOM’s efforts when it comes to the future workforce, applied cyber research, applied analytics and strategic issues.

“Cyber Command’s goal for the AEN is to strengthen our relationships and communication with these participating institutions,” said CYBERCOM Executive Director David Frederick. “This will improve and sustain our efforts to meet cyberspace educational requirements and workforce needs.”

Part of the mission of the AEN is to create a qualified pool of cybersecurity professionals. Other institutions which are part of the AEN include the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy, the U.S. Army War College, West Point, Virginia Military Institute, Virginia Tech, Marshall University, University of Cincinnati, University of Louisville, Mississippi State University, DePaul University, and University of California, Santa Cruz.

Laurel Ridge’s cybersecurity program has been designated as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD) by the NSA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and is accredited by ABET’s Computing Accreditation Commission. All Laurel Ridge’s technology students qualify for participation in the AEN, with initial focus on the cybersecurity and computer science programs.

The program will feature monthly events and engagements with CYBERCOM, including an applied research showcase, sponsored capstone mentorships, internships, fellowship and recruiting programs.

“A cybercrime happens roughly every 30 seconds, and this collaboration will help build the talent and innovation needed to address the rapidly changing cyber and threat environment we face both locally and nationally,” School of Professional Programs Dean Craig Santicola said. “With the growth in cybersecurity jobs, this is a fantastic opportunity for our students to build their skills and gain experiences only a small number of students across the country have access to. The partnership will foster a variety of cyber activities for our students, and further positions our program as a regional leader in cybersecurity education. We’re honored to be a part of U.S. Cyber Command’s Academic Engagement Network and look forward to providing our students access to the world-class opportunities it provides.”  

Dr. Santicola noted Laurel Ridge’s selection into the program reflects the skilled faculty in the college’s technology program and their desire to provide the best learning opportunities to students. 

“The college’s inclusion into this prestigious partnership shows the technology programs within Laurel Ridge’s School of Professional Programs are providing a strong talent pool,” said Computer Science Professor Melissa Stange. “We look forward to continuing to provide for the nation’s diverse workforce needs by infusing cybersecurity across disciplines and seeing these students step forth into their careers. I am proud to be able to mentor these students and provide them connections, such as the AEN.”

Laurel Ridge students were able to attend a virtual AEN engagement this month with Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, commander of U.S. Cyber Command, director of the National Security Agency, and chief of the Central Security Service.

“Cyber threats really evolve quickly,” Gen. Nakasone said during the presentation. “We must be able to intercept, not just react, to these threats.”

He said that 43 percent of cyber attacks target small businesses.

“Partnership is where the power is,” said Gen. Nakasone.

By working together, we raise the stakes against our adversaries, he said.

Learn more about Laurel Ridge’s technology programs at


Founded in 1970, Laurel Ridge Community College is a multi-campus public institution of higher education. With three locations — Middletown, Warrenton, and Luray-Page County — the College serves eight localities in the Shenandoah Valley and northern Piedmont regions. The localities are the counties of Clarke, Fauquier, Frederick, Page, Rappahannock, Shenandoah and Warren and the city of Winchester. Laurel Ridge offers more than 75 associate degree and certificate programs in a wide variety of disciplines, in addition to providing access to bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs offered on site by a four-year institution. Laurel Ridge also serves the business community by offering workforce preparation programs for employees and employers. Laurel Ridge serves more than 9,000 unduplicated credit students and more than 11,000 individuals in professional development and business and industry courses annually.

Laurel Ridge Community College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) to award associate degrees. Laurel Ridge Community College also may offer credentials such as certificates and diplomas at approved degree levels. Questions about the accreditation of Laurel Ridge Community College may be directed in writing to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, GA 30033-4097, by calling (404) 679-4500, or by using information available on SACSCOC’s website (

Laurel Ridge Community College is an equal opportunity institution providing educational and employment opportunities, programs, services, and activities. Laurel Ridge shall promote and maintain equal employment and educational opportunities without regard to race, color, religion, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, marital status, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions including lactation, age (except when age is a bona fide occupational qualification), status as a veteran, national origin, or other non-merit factors. Laurel Ridge also prohibits sexual misconduct including sexual violence or harassment. Inquiries may be directed to the Associate Vice President, Human Resources, [email protected]173 Skirmisher Lane, Middletown, VA 22645, 540-868-7226.

Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.