BARBERTON — The Barberton City School District and the University of Akron are honing in on cybersecurity in a partnership.

Barberton High School students have long been able to earn up to 15 hours of college credits in computer networking at UA before high school graduation. Now, there's a big cybersecurity focus to the classes they take that cover such topics as network setup and configuration, network security testing, and network optimization and upgrading.

This year, Barberton Middle School launched a Cyber Club, where 37 students joined to learn everything from computer basics to cyber awareness to network encryption. They'll also learn how to be "a more aware digital citizen" and learn about cyber bullying, negative aspects of social media and more, said Rich Mehok, who oversees the Cyber Club and teaches courses for the Barberton High School career and technical program called Network Systems and Cybersecurity.

The club is designed to be a pathway into the high school program.

“UA recognizes the need to develop talent pipelines for business and industry that reach down into our high schools and middle schools,” UA College of Applied Science and Technology dean Elizabeth Kennedy said in a prepared statement. “We want to capture student interest and generate excitement in the cybersecurity field. This is a wonderful opportunity to not only entice the next generation of students to become part of a lucrative career, but to also keep them interested in STEM disciplines.”

Mehok, who oversees the Barberton program, has taught technology at Barberton for more than two decades and has been an adjunct professor at UA for nearly a decade.

UA computer information systems "professors always know if a student comes through Barberton," Mehok said. "It's 'wow, they're ahead of the game.'''

Mehok said these days his focus in teaching at Barberton and UA "isn't just on optimizing network performance, it's also about securing your data on the network."

Graduates of the Barberton High School program can use the credits in a degree program at UA or can earn industry standard credentials, such as CompTIA and Cisco, that will help them get a job directly out of high school.

"One of the initiatives of Barberton City Schools is to listen to our businesses in the area and develop programming for the jobs they need to fill,” Barberton Superintendent Jeff Ramnytz said in the prepared statement. “Cybersecurity is an area where good, certified workers are needed at all levels, and our programming, developed and led by Mr. Mehock and our collaboration with a first-rate college like the University of Akron, is unlike anything else in the state.”

An open house for the Barberton Middle School Cyber Club will take place at 3 p.m. Thursday at the middle school, 477 Fourth St. NW. Representatives of the school district and UA, along with students, will be in attendance.