UDM hosts U.S. Sen. Peters and National Cyber Director Harry Coker Jr.

April 16, 2024
U.S. Sen. Peters and National Cyber Director Harry Coker Jr. watch students talk near a vehicle in the Engineering Building while others look on.

U.S. Senator Gary Peters ’84, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and National Cyber Director Harry Coker Jr., visited Detroit Mercy Monday to discuss the importance of preparing and recruiting a strong cybersecurity workforce.

Peters, who earned an MBA from Detroit Mercy, and Coker visited UDM's Vehicle Cyber Engineering Program to see how students are engaging in critical cybersecurity labs. They also met with government and industry leaders to emphasize the need to develop a strong cyber workforce for Michigan’s defense and automotive industries.

In 2021, UDM received a $1.12-million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to establish the Metro Detroit Regional Vehicle Cybersecurity Institute, a regional cybersecurity consortium. It is designed to expand and enhance the cybersecurity engineering workforce through a curriculum developed in consultation with industry partners. It supports upskilling and reskilling for vehicle cybersecurity by prioritizing underrepresented populations, military personnel and veterans. It includes scholarships to encourage students to enter the field. It received nearly $500,000 in additional funding earlier this year.

“I was honored to host National Cyber Director Harry Coker Jr. in Michigan today to meet with innovative students and leaders in cybersecurity to discuss the importance of preparing a strong cybersecurity workforce,” Peters said. “As cybersecurity threats become increasingly common and complex, we must strengthen our defenses at every level — from our manufacturing and defense industries to health care and critical infrastructure. I am grateful to Director Coker for committing his time to meet with Michiganders and I look forward to continuing to work with him to address the many cybersecurity challenges facing our state and our entire nation.” 

Coker echoed those sentiments. 

U.S. Sen. Peters and National Cyber Director Harry Coker Jr. listen and observe as a man talks about something cybersecurity related while pointing to a computer. “Today in Detroit, we saw not only a hub of innovation but also incredible cyber talent that we so badly need to protect this great nation,” Coker said. “Here in Michigan, there are nearly 10,000 open cybersecurity jobs and almost half of those jobs are in the Detroit area. Building a pipeline of talent to fill these vital positions is imperative to making sure our critical infrastructure and our nation remain secure, a key element of President Biden’s National Cybersecurity Strategy.”

Coker said he was impressed by the “dedicated ecosystem of startups, schools and industry working together to facilitate that talent and I was particularly impressed by the thoughtfulness of the students.”

After meeting the students and seeing the University's programming, he told Peters, “Thank you for exposing me to what had been a hidden gem, is no longer hidden. We will be back.”

During the visit, Peters and Coker met with UDM students and faculty to hear firsthand how students are being prepared to enter in-demand cybersecurity jobs across Michigan’s automotive and defense sectors. Peters has long recognized the need to help recruit, develop and retain highly skilled cybersecurity professionals and authored legislation that was signed into law to do so for the federal workforce. This law will help federal agencies defend networks and retain qualified cybersecurity employees. 

“It was a pleasure to host Senator Peters and Director Coker. We were excited to hear them talk about our initiatives and successes at Detroit Mercy,” said Pamela Zarkowski, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. “More importantly, it allowed the Senator and Director to meet with and talk with our students their education and their experiences in cybersecurity.”

Peters and Coker also met with industry and government officials to discuss how the federal government and industry can work collaboratively to address emerging issues related cybersecurity threats, vehicle cybersecurity, workforce development and artificial intelligence. These conversations were organized to provide insight into how the industry is working to protect against cybersecurity threats. 

Peters and Coker concluded their visit at Michigan Central Station to tour the new site of an innovation district. The space will be used to train and educate people of all ages for high-skilled cybersecurity jobs. Peters and Coker were joined by project leaders to highlight how this hub will help support a vibrant tech workforce in Michigan.