The National Consortium for Mission Critical Operations (NCMCO), led by Cleveland Community College in Shelby, NC, announced the launch of the nation's first Mission Critical Operations concentration offered to undergraduate students. Students who graduate from the 2-year program will receive an Associate in Applied Science Degree in Mission Critical Operations (AAS MCO).

Cleveland Community College began planning for the mission critical program in January 2013 and spear-headed the efforts to apply for a Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant in early July 2013, which they were awarded over $23 million in September 2013 for the program's development.

"The consortium strives to be a national center of educational excellence and an ambassador for the mission critical operations field," says Dr. Shannon Kennedy, executive vice president of Instruction and Student Development, at Cleveland Community College. "In partnering with leading data center businesses and industry organizations, NCMCO ensures a demand driven approach to our educational offerings."

Official industry partners of the grant include 7x24 Exchange — The Carolinas Chapter, Automation Federation, and ISA, among several other large Fortune 500 organizations who supported the development and marketing of the grant as well as the curation of the curriculum and selection of subject matter experts.

"As our daily lives become more automated, integrated and connected it will be up to mission critical professionals to sustain and protect our critical infrastructures," says Mike Marlowe, managing director/director of government relations for the Automation Federation. "NCMCO is focused on educating the next wave of our technical workforce to be readily prepared to meet these new demands."

In addition to the official grant sponsors, NCMCO has partnered with data center industry organizations to add to its roster of subject matter experts and grow the support of the on-going development of the concentration's curriculum. Among these partners is Sentinel Data Centers, a leading owner, developer and operator of enterprise-grade data centers, who operates a 420,000 sq. colocation facility in Durham, North Carolina.

"As evidenced by the large volume of new data center development in the state, North Carolina has proven an optimal locale for housing mission critical infrastructure," says Brian Baker, vice president of business development, Southeast, at Sentinel Data Centers. "The highly trained, hyper-technical workforce that the NCMCO program will help create, perfectly complements the state's low power and construction costs, minimal environmental risk and ease of access, and will further cement North Carolina's standing as the nation's preeminent location for data centers."

Classes for the Mission Critical Concentration began at Cleveland Community College on August 17. The program carries full accreditation and academic standing, which allows students to apply for financial aid or use Veteran's Benefits funds. A transfer pathway is also being developed for continued study at a baccalaureate level. The Mission Critical Operations concentration is scheduled to be offered at Wake Tech, Nash Community College, and Southern Regional Technical College — Tifton starting fall of 2016.