MISSOULA -- For the past two years, Conrad High School senior Brady Barnhill has been a college campus of one.

Barnhill is studying online to earn a certificate in cybersecurity from the University of Montana’s Missoula College. Each day, on his own, he sits down to learn about server administration, networking, cryptography and other topics relevant to an exploding professional field that impacts everything from government defense to the safety of personal checking accounts.

Barnhill is actually the first high school student to complete this certificate as part of Missoula College’s Dual Enrollment program, which offers students opportunities to earn college credits before they even enter a university campus

“I was talking one day to our neighbor (Montana State Rep.) Llew Jones, and he brought to my attention UM’s cybersecurity program and my Dad talked to me about it, too,” Barnhill said. “I really like computers and work with them a lot, and they thought it might be a good idea to enroll.”

The Dual Enrollment program offers two pathways to college-level courses – in-class concurrent instruction from qualified high school teachers and the Early College program, which students can take online or at the UM, Missoula College and UM Bitterroot campuses. Students who live in-state get their first two classes free and a tuition discount of 50% after that. Credits earned transfer seamlessly to colleges in Montana and most out-of-state schools.

Dual Enrollment Director Jordan Patterson said the program originally offered just math and computer classes but now has a course catalogue with subjects ranging from American government to an introduction to the trades.

“The program is a wonderful way for students to explore a variety of subjects while also getting a better idea about what college courses are like,” Patterson said. “Brady is an excellent example of someone taking advantage of the opportunity to see what college education is really all about.”

Barnhill is one of more than 60 high schoolers from across the state enrolled in the Early College program. Most students live in Missoula and surrounding counties, but others hail from Billings, Havre and locations across Montana.

For the most part, Barnhill said the cybersecurity courses have been well designed and easy to follow. Some he said were actually a “breeze.”

Monica Tomayer, adviser and teacher at Conrad High School, has known Barnhill since he was in seventh grade and said he has all the skill sets needed to succeed in programs like Early College.

In addition to the cybersecurity certificate, he’s also earned 31 credits from nearby Great Falls College.

“Brady is not only organized and motivated, but he also knows to ask for help when he needs it. That’s really important for students taking remote classes,” said Tomayer, who added that Barnhill’s skills with coding and other computer programming came to the fore in her robotics class.

“He’s super interested in computers and likes to use his hands to fix things,” she said.

Barnhill recently put his computer knowledge to use at Conrad’s Bliss Cycle Sales, where he works selling parts and gear for motorcycles and four wheelers. He also cleans local offices and mows lawns in the summer.

“The other day, we thought one of our computers died at the store, but after several days, I was able to revive it and it works great again,” said Barnhill, who is an avid gamer, specializing in Fortnite, Call of Duty and Madden.

Throughout his high school studies, Barnhill has competed in wrestling, which he’s done since age 3, and swimming, where he’s posted several records.

Kamie Barnhill, Brady’s mom and swim coach, said they sometimes have to moderate his activities to keep him from taking on too much, but the family was supportive of him enrolling in UM’s cybersecurity class.

“The program is such a benefit,” said Barnhill, who has been a teacher in the area for 36 years. “They learn how to manage time and to be a college student before they leave home. It’s not for all kids, but kids are also capable of anything they put their minds to.”

Brady Barnhill enrolled at UM for the fall 2023 semester to continue his studies in computers and cybersecurity. He’s got plenty more classes to complete but is already thinking about his future career.

“I am leaning toward forensic science right now,” he said. “I’ll go where ever the job takes me, but I’d like to stay in Montana.”

- by Raequel Roberts, UM News Service -


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