Saint Leo’s Cybersecurity Program Trains a Critical Workforce

While the last several months have delivered multiple bad news reports about cybersecurity breaches of customer and employee files at corporations, various government agencies, and even among certain smartphone users and car owners, there is good news in the field of cybersecurity.

CybersecurityTalented people are being attracted to the growing career field of cybersecurity to help corporations, organizations, and individuals learn how to safeguard their vital data. And Saint Leo University is helping to train the workforce with dynamic new academic programs designed to meet the most current industry hiring specifications. The first class to enroll in the master of cybersecurity degree program will graduate in Spring 2016, and the 19 degree candidates are expected to encounter ample career opportunities for promotions and higher-paying positions.

“There are strong indications that there are good career prospects for these students,” commented Dr. Vyas Krishnan, assistant professor of computer science, who helped design the MS program. One company has told Saint Leo it wants to interview master’s degree candidates in the fall for hiring in the spring. On a national scale, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the job growth rate for information security analysts (an industry term for cyber experts) during the period 2012-2022 will exceed 36.5 percent, while the growth rate for computer systems analysts will exceed 24.5 percent. “The projected job growth rates of 36.5 percent and 24.5 percent represent a substantial increase,” Dr. Krishnan said, “creating a robust demand for graduates with a degree in cybersecurity.”

The 36-hour MS program in cybersecurity is specifically marketed to those who already possess some experience in the information technology field. More than 60 students are in some stage of the advanced degree program currently. It is now offered online as well as at University Campus, with a second cohort beginning on-ground studies now.

Students are versed in the technical competencies of safeguarding operating systems, networks, databases, and other software applications. The students’ curriculum is compliant with standards established by the National Security Agency, and it prepares them to attain a number of industry-recognized certifications. “These information security professionals require proficiency in a variety of current and emerging technologies—computer and network security, operating systems security, cryptography, Internet/intranet security, biometrics, compliance and legal issues, and homeland security,” Dr. Krishnan elaborated.

CybersecurityTo be as effective as possible over the long term of their careers, graduates must also emerge from the university with an understanding of the management environments they will operate in and the needs of chief executives they will serve. Saint Leo offers students an advantage in this regard, as the academic home of the cybersecurity instruction is the Donald R. Tapia School of Business, an environment that prepares students to function in business organizations. “Securing the information assets of an enterprise depends on more than just a technical foundation in information security,” Dr. Krishnan explained. “It requires an overall security management approach that combines the business needs of the enterprise, the technical and business risks associated with those information assets, the relevant legal issues, and how the systems interact with people: the developers, the system managers, and the internal and external users.”

Many of these institutional strengths also influence positively the instruction at the undergraduate level, where Saint Leo students have been so far able to earn the Bachelor of Science in computer information systems (popular in many education centers) or the more technically oriented computer science program. They may also earn a minor in information assurance with either program to gain cyber credentials. Apart from those options, students are also invited to take part in fun activities, including a cybersecurity club, a cybersecurity competition that may become an annual event, and opportunities to make presentations on topics such as computer extortion at Academic Excellence Day (held each April at University Campus).
Still, Saint Leo as an institution is ambitious to do more, and so development of a Bachelor of Science in cybersecurity is underway. At the earliest, it would be offered in Fall 2016, at University Campus and online. The objective of the Bachelor of Science degree will be to prepare graduates for careers in developing security products and procedures, so they may work in roles such as security-application programmers, testers, analysts, and even cyber-legal analysts, Dr. Krishnan said. The curriculum proposed for the BS in cybersecurity requires core courses from the computer science degree and supplements that with six courses on technical aspects of cybersecurity and two courses from the bachelor’s degree program in criminal justice (housed in the School of Education and Social Services).

Another option is also on the table: an accelerated program just approved that will move motivated students swiftly from the BS in computer science through the MS in cybersecurity. It is called one of the Tapia School’s “3 +1” programs, explained Dr. Derek Mohammed, the chair of the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems, and shortens the student’s overall time in the academic setting.

CybersecurityThere is good reason to be optimistic about the job prospects for Tapia School graduates from these programs, too, according to Dr. Mohammed. Four graduates of the class of 2015 who earned the BS in computer science with a minor in information assurance—the most cyber-intensive offering available at the time—were sw
iftly hired after graduation at a technology company, a soft-drink company, a staffing company, and the City of Tampa.

Saint Leo has also signed on to participate in a specialized program in Florida for veterans. The pilot program was created to train veterans for careers in cybersecurity by making selected online courses available to them. The student-veterans enrolled will eventually take certain industry certification tests and earn a certificate of completion.

To meet the growing instructional and advisory duties all these initiatives will create, Saint Leo has hired two faculty members for newly created positions this fall at University Campus, Dr. Mohammed noted, in addition to a faculty member hired to fill an open position. Two faculty members have been brought on in Virginia in recent years, as well. “This really demonstrates Saint Leo’s commitment to cybersecurity,” he said.

Further, Saint Leo has met head-on the particular challenges academic institutions face in preparing entrants for this fast-paced field, Dr. Krishnan commented. “There is a constant ‘arms race’ between cyber-criminals with their increasingly sophisticated methods of cyberattacks, and the efforts of cybersecurity professionals to mitigate and defend against these threats,” he said. “To be effective as a university, it is imperative for faculty teaching courses in cybersecurity to stay current with the latest trends and needs of the industry. Saint Leo faculty are committed to preparing sophisticated practitioners who are well-versed in the science of protecting vital computer networks and infrastructures from attack.”

Jo-Ann Johnston earned her bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University (NY) and her master’s degree from Bay Path University (MA). She joined Saint Leo University in January 2008.

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