In order to prosper, the Upper Peninsula needs to keep evolving. Once dependent on mining, forest products, and shipping, the region’s economy has diversified with manufacturing, tourism, healthcare and education sectors playing a critical role. While the region’s rugged remoteness bound by the Great Lakes posed critical barriers for settlement and economic diversification, improved broadband connectivity and shifting workplace dynamics has leaders highlighting these attributes as assets for outdoor recreation and work-life balance, making the U.P. an attractive option for digital economy jobs.

Northern Michigan University’s cybersecurity programs and the recently-created Upper Peninsula Cybersecurity Institute (UPCI)  are creating new opportunities for students and digital economy employers alike. Cybersecurity degrees offered through NMU’s College of Business and the UPCI’s industry-recognized certification courses are providing opportunities for career advancement in cybersecurity to learners of all ages. Additionally, NMU leads a consortium of K-12 schools, industry and economic development partners to provide cybersecurity skill development and career exploration opportunities for students throughout the region. 

Five new partnerships are advancing opportunities for students and alumni.

01. Northcross Group

NMU and Northcross Group (NCG) entered an academic partnership that focuses on  experiential learning and programmatic partnerships to provide a pathway for career success for the next generation of cyber professionals.  The partnership focuses on NCG’s business-centric approach to cybersecurity through paid internship and employment opportunities.

“Our first discussions with NMU were around connecting students and recent grads with cybersecurity opportunities in the commercial space, and doing so with companies in the region as well as outside of it,” said NCG President Christopher Bender. “With cybersecurity being important for businesses of all sizes and in every industry, we started with the notion of connecting capabilities coming out of NMU with needs across the region and beyond.

“Our relationship with NMU led to us opening our third office in Marquette, rather than in Manhattan as we were initially planning. The opportunity to work closely with the UPCI and have access to a new and strong pool of talent, along with a new market of opportunities, presented some real business investment potential.”  

The Marquette office is opening this summer in the historic Kaufman bank building on the corner of Front and Washington streets in downtown Marquette. The company’s other locations are in Portland, Maine, and Arlington, Virginia. 

NMU alumna Anna D’Amico ’20 BS is a systems technician at NCG. 

Anna D’Amico ’20 BS

“This partnership has opened up a way for NMU students and alumni to start their careers through internships and full-time positions, and I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of the whole process,” said D’Amico. “I am incredibly excited for the new office location to open up here in Marquette because there are plenty of companies up here that can benefit from partnering with NCG to handle their cybersecurity needs. I am truly excited to see where this journey takes me. 

“Throughout my time in NMU’s computer science program, I learned many technical skills that have helped me in my NCG position. I learned how to navigate the world of technology and utilize my programming skills to make the world a better place.” 

Since the partnership began in September 2020, NCG has provided NMU students and alumni with opportunities to work with cyber experts across the country while gaining hands-on client experience in a wide span of commercial and government enterprises.


Students across the Upper Peninsula will soon have the opportunity to learn and develop cyber physical systems skills on an automobile-hacking dashboard thanks to a $100,000 allocation from the U.P. Cybersecurity Talent Consortium’s Marshall Plan for Talent grant, a $2.49 million initiative convened by NMU to advance cybersecurity skill attainment and career exploration for K-12 and postsecondary students, as well as career changers and existing cybersecurity professionals.  This project was supported through NMU’s partnership with GRIMM Cyber R&D, a cybersecurity engineering and consulting firm for automotive, aerospace, critical infrastructure and industrial control systems. Northern is now the only university in Michigan with this type of equipment, which will assist students in developing cybersecurity skills related to automobiles and physical systems. 

“The safety, diagnostic and comfort features of modern vehicles require a large amount of software code and electronic control units (ECUs),” said Doug Miller, director of NMU’s UPCI. “The software and ECUs constantly communicate with internal and external systems to pass and receive information. Think of your satellite radio, your Bluetooth phone connection, the rearview camera displayed on your dashboard screen and more.  

“These communication systems unfortunately open up attack surfaces for hackers. Our automobile-hacking dashboard allows our students to learn how these systems communicate and the protocols associated with this communication in order to design and implement better defensive measures into the system.” 

Professor Jim Marquardson explained, “So many things in cyber defense are hard to visualize—whether it’s the bits being sent across the network, the computations carried out on a computer’s processor or the digital signature of malware. The automobile-hacking dashboard gives students something concrete that they can touch and interact with. Using modern tools, students can dig into the system to see how the different parts of a modern system work together.  

“There is something powerful in linking cyber defense concepts to real, tangible things like cars that we interact with every day. With the automobile-hacking dashboard, we’re not just talking about abstract concepts and principles, we’re applying cyber defense skills in an exciting new area.” 

Both the GRIMM and Northcross partnerships are supported by the State of Michigan’s Marshall Plan for Talent.

“This plan was created by the State of Michigan to cultivate innovative partnerships between academia, industry and interested stakeholders to transform Michigan’s talent pipeline and the way we, collectively, develop talent in Michigan,” said GRIMM Principal Jennifer Tisdale. “As it is of mutual interest to GRIMM, we offered to join the NMU team in pursuing the Marshall Plan funds to create an automotive security training curriculum at NMU.” 

GRIMM built the automobile-hacking dashboard and infotainment systems and has provided the UPCI with support and initial training on the systems. Pictured above, U.P. Cybersecurity Institute Director Doug Miller test drives its capabilities with Meredith Miller ’18 BS.

03. Attactics

The UPCI is also acquiring an Internet of Things (IoT) Hacking Station with the support of Marquette-based industry partner, Attactics. Miller said that the IoT Hacking Station serves a similar purpose as the automobile-hacking system. It will provide NMU and K-12 students with the opportunity to test systems we use in our everyday lives for vulnerabilities and set up defensive protections against possible cyber attacks.  

“The world, our homes and our lives are all increasingly interconnected via the internet,” said Miller. “People now have smart refrigerators, smart thermostats, smart doorbells, smart cameras and more in their homes. While these devices provide an incredible amount of convenience and safety, they also provide an avenue for cyber criminals and hackers to gain access into our homes, our data and our private lives.” 

04 & 05. Criminal Justice and Military Science

The UPCI is also partnering with NMU’s Criminal Justice (CJ) Department and ROTC program. 

The CJ partnership launched with a digital forensics class. Students learned a detailed, methodological approach to forensics and evidence analysis related to computers and other devices. The class provided the skillset for identifying an intruder’s access, gathering evidence for prosecution and creating an improved cyber defense.

“It is estimated that the average American possesses eight connected internet devices,” said adjunct instructor Jeffrey Martin ‘03 BS, who taught the course and serves with the Michigan State Police Cyber Section. “All of these devices track a significant amount of digital data while employed. This data can be forensically acquired and examined to help determine events, locations and communications, which can aid in solving almost any crime where a digital device was not only used, but just present.”

The class included all the material from the globally recognized EC-Council’s Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator (CFHI) training program. Students who completed the NMU class were eligible to take the CFHI certification exam at no cost. Many private-sector employers and public agencies, such as the Michigan State Police, recognize this credential when hiring forensic investigators.

“The certifications we are able to offer at the UPCI through our academic partnerships with the Cisco Networking Academy, CompTIA and EC-Council are the certifications most in demand by industry,” said Miller. “The cybersecurity field is constantly evolving at a very rapid pace. New threats emerge on an almost daily basis. The UPCI is set up and designed to adapt quickly and incorporate these new threats and defense information into the curriculum.” 

The UPCI is working with NMU’s Military Science Department by conducting at least one dedicated cyber lab each semester for Army ROTC cadets.

“We are looking at how to help incorporate more cybersecurity concepts into their larger field training exercises,” said Miller, a veteran who worked in network integration and security with the U.S. Army. “We hope to expand these initial partnerships with other courses across the NMU campus.” 

By Jill Vermeulen ’18 BA