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From Experiential Learning to Practice: A Pre-Apprenticeship Program

Researchers will create a comprehensive experiential learning program, or pre-apprenticeship, that combines on-the-job experiential learning with practical internship experience. The target audience is Virginia community college students, particularly career changers. 

Funded by the CCI Hub

Project Investigators

Principal Investigator (PI): Stephanie J. Blackmon, Associate Professor, William & Mary School of Education

Co-PI: Leigh Armistead, President of Peregrine Technical Solutions, and Adjunct Professor. Old Dominion University School of Cybersecurity

Rationale and Background

Experiential learning is a vital component of preparing for jobs, especially those in the cybersecurity field. Cybersecurity curriculum is also integral to students’ success.

However, students might feel a disconnect between coursework and career,  because the cybersecurity field changes so rapidly. 

To address that learning gap, researchers propose a place-based approach to cybersecurity curriculum in which students learn from cybersecurity subject matter experts (SMEs), then apply that knowledge directly to internships in the same location


In the curricular phase, subject matter experts (SMEs) will work with students, informing them about the particulars of a job and discussing the process of thinking like a cybersecurity expert. During the application phase, the SME will guide the student, who will have more independent tasks in an internship.

The project placement site is Peregrine Technical Solutions, which has a Top-Secret Facility Clearance Level. 

From November 2023 through April 2024, 16 students will spend 10 hours a week working with SMEs in:

  • Information technology cybersecurity.
  • Internet of Things (IoT) cybersecurity.
  • Operations.
  • Technical Writing.

For the next phase (February 2024-April 2024), students will apply that content alongside SMEs while working on unclassified tasks for the federal government. The entire program will be virtual. 

Projected Outcomes

This approach provides a model that could be replicated through academy-industry pre-apprenticeship partnerships across Virginia.

It provides an in-depth cybersecurity experience, as well as on-the-job support for students to engage in cyber-specific experiential learning and move directly from that to the application of knowledge through an internship in the same location instead of having students work for several Virginia businesses.

Industries can use this pre-apprenticeship program as an example, or consider extending students’ experiences through a registered apprenticeship after the initial pre-apprenticeship program.