MECC Named a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense by the NSA, Homeland Security

RD_Cyber Defense

BIG STONE GAP, Va. – Mountain Empire Community College has been accredited jointly by the National Security Agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (or CAE-CD).

The accreditation is awarded only to U.S. four-year and two-year colleges that demonstrate a proven ability to deliver quality cybersecurity education to their students while meeting standards related to curricula and faculty. With this distinction, MECC becomes only one of nine Virginia community colleges (out of 23) to carry the accreditation. Of the 84 public and private colleges in Virginia, only 25 percent of them hold the accreditation.

“National Security Agency and U.S. Department of Homeland Security recognition as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense signifies that MECC has created a strong cybersecurity educational program producing the technology talent necessary to fill positions in cybersecurity within our region as well as attracting new businesses requiring this talent to the region,” said MECC President Kristen Westover.

As a CAE-CD institution, MECC is now eligible for federal funding opportunities reserved only for CAE-CD colleges. Other incentives offered include virtual student job fairs and special training seminars for faculty. Lastly, MECC’s CAE-CD status confirms a cybersecurity curriculum deemed worthy by some of the nation’s largest employers like the NSA and the U.S. Department of Defense.

MECC Assistant Professor Ritchie Deel, who serves as both the college’s cybersecurity professor and Chief Information Officer, expressed that the accreditation represents both MECC’s diligence in developing its cybersecurity program since 2016 and the overall effort by colleges in Southwest Virginia to attract technology companies to the region.

“We started our cybersecurity program back in 2016 with grant funding backed by the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, and since then, we’ve made sure to leverage that opportunity by building a program that signals that there is technology talent in Southwest Virginia for those companies that are interested in the area,” Deel said.

Since the creation of MECC’s Cybersecurity Career Studies certificate program in 2016, MECC has formed a student competition club that participates in national cybersecurity-based tournaments and has collaborated with regional colleges like the University of Virginia’s College at Wise and Southwest Virginia Community College to organize technology-themed events.

MECC offers a 10-course Cybersecurity Career Studies Certificate that can be taken on its own or paired with the college’s Computer Networking and Computer Software Specialist degrees. Those interested in learning more about the program can visit MECC’s Cybersecurity Center at or contact Mr. Deel at 276-523-9444 or at