13:15 PM

UST’s Kolbe School expands globally, empowering marginalized students with cybersecurity skills

New partnership with John Paul II Junior College in Belize

Pictured are four of the Belize students: Gian, Hailey, Damari, and EidenAn international collaboration between the University of St. Thomas-Houston Kolbe School for Innovation and Professional Studies and John Paul II Junior College in Belize empowers its first five students from a marginalized community with in-demand cybersecurity skills. The transformative opportunity for these students from the village of Benque Viejo adds to their JPII liberal arts associate degree the IT security knowledge and expertise needed to acquire a prized Cisco Certification.

In light of the severe economic hardship in Belize, students from JPII are eligible for partial scholarships when enrolling in the 100% online cybersecurity courses.

Triggering a Paradigm Shift in Underdeveloped Community

 “This empowering initiative can change lives for students who live where jobs are scarce or nonexistent,” explained Dr. Mark Amelang, chair and assistant professor of the General Business Program for The Kolbe School. He added, “Cybersecurity is one of the fastest-growing careers in the world. The position does not require a four-year degree, and you can work from home in this field. It represents a fantastic paradigm shift for people who live in remote parts of the world like this community in Belize.”

Establishing the Country’s Only Cybersecurity Program

JPII Dean Natalie Gallatin, Fr. Beau Schweitzer, Dr. Mark Amelang and Dr. Hans Stockton at John Paul II Junior College in February 2023 for initial MOU signingAmelang traveled to the country located on the Caribbean coast of Central America with UST’s Associate Vice President of International Relations and Engagement, Dr. Hans Stockton, for the signing of the initial MOU (memorandum of understanding) for International Cooperation in February 2023. The MOU officially launching the cybersecurity collaboration was finalized this fall.

JPII’s Dean Natalie Gallatin said, “When we announced that we had signed with the University of St. Thomas, our community was immediately excited about the new opportunities that are now within reach. This signing established the only cybersecurity program in Belize and has the real possibility of national impact.”

Students Sparked by a Shifting Worldview

Damari, one of the students in the program, said, “Nobody in my family has ever studied computer science. I want to make my parents proud.” 

Another student, Gian, added, “Since I was small, I have loved technology. Now, since there’s this opportunity in Benque, my hometown, I want to take advantage of it.”

Indeed, some of the students have loved computers since they were very young and spent time teaching themselves off the internet. Others had no technology in their homes and would not have had a chance to learn without this partnership.

“One of our students does not have a phone and was gifted a laptop for this program,” Gallatin explained. “He didn’t know what a server was before starting his studies. He has had to research every term and ask every question as his entire worldview is being shifted. When we say this program is cultivating the landscape of possibility, we’re not just using feel-good phrasing.”

Gallatin is grateful to the entire UST team and UST President Richard Ludwick, “who dreamt alongside us.” 

She said, “To meet UST and, within the same year, get a program off the ground is remarkable. It is such a gift that a university with so much experience, expertise and resources would come and meet us and make it happen—would open the door of success to students who, with UST’s belief in us, can now dream in their hometown.”

Strategically Exporting Hope in the Form of Education

Dr. Amelang, who initially identified the community in Belize for this initiative, plans to study these first five students to document their outcomes. His academic research has focused on marginalized communities around the world. This initiative, he believes, could be the seedling of something more widely impactful.

This is a dream for me — to fundamentally change an underdeveloped community,” he said. “Part of the vision would be to export UST’s education initiatives like this one in cybersecurity overseas to help countries such as some in Africa build stronger, more sustainable economies.”

Dr. Stockton praised the efforts of Dr. Amelang and The Kolbe School Dean Dr. Nicole Walters, saying, “Inspired and empowered by incredible faculty leaders and UST’s strategic vision, Greater Things 2030, innovative international academic collaborations such as this are a hallmark of the good that comes from UST’s global engagement.”