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Cybersecurity field booming

Colleges, universities in Maryland prepare students for bustling job market

Cybersecurity bachelor’s and master’s programs in Maryland are enrolling a growing number of students seeking to obtain credential on the way to a new job or advance their current careers in the field.

Dr. Richard Forno, director of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s graduate cybersecurity program and assistant director of UMBC’s Center for Cybersecurity, has seen the number of graduate students grow from 36 when the program started six years ago to about 170 students on two campuses today — one at Catonsville and the other at Shady Grove.

Forno also co-founded the Maryland Cyber Challenge, a statewide cyber competition for high school and college students and cybersecurity professionals held at the end of October at the CyberMaryland Conference.

Housed in the university’s computer science and electrical engineering department, UMBC’s graduate program offers a mix of strategy, policy and management courses. Students have up to five years to complete the master’s degree, but most finish the 10-course program within 18 months.

And typically, good things are waiting. Blessed by geography, many of the program’s graduates go on to work for the National Security Agency or other government agencies or for private firms, Forno said. In Maryland alone, there are about 12,000-13,000 openings in the industry if you know what you’re doing, he said.

For graduate students living in-country or abroad, University of Maryland University College (UMUC) offers an online four-track master’s program that includes cybersecurity, policy, digital forensics and cyber investigation and IT information assurance, said Dr. Rosemary Shumba, associate vice dean for Cybersecurity and Information Assurance.

The typical mid-career student is advised to take one class at a time and also usually finishes the degree in about 18 months, Shumba said.

The school offers a virtual lab to train and undertake assignments, including the capstone course in which all of the programs’ roughly 2,500 students each semester respond in groups to a simulated threat as a professional team might, Shumba said.

Undergraduates at UMUC have a choice of three bachelor’s tracks, including a bachelor’s of science program for computer networks and cybersecurity, management and policy and software development and security, said Dr. Jeff Tjiputra, academic director of the undergraduate school’s cybersecurity program.

Many of these students, too, are already working in the field and looking for a degree to advance their career, he said. To that end, the school attempts to shape its curricula based on some of the real-world needs of employers.

The software development and security degree, for instance, is an attempt by the school to prepare fledgling software developers and engineers with essential security and design principles to mitigate and minimize software and application vulnerabilities that could potentially be exploited by hackers, Tjiputra said.”

“We’ve incorporated a lot more business processes,” he said.

Bringing new perspectives

The nature of the cybersecurity world is in flux, and Tjiputra said he sees cyber intelligence as a burgeoning area of interest among businesses and governments. Many major companies, for example, now are keeping cyber-crime responders on staff to address issues more quickly as they arise.

The school also is attempting to align its programs more closely with the skills students need to obtain industry certifications employers’ desire from new graduates but may not always find, Shumba said.

“It looks like there’s a bigger push toward producing skilled professionals than we had before,” she said.

Many UMUC students study while they’re stationed abroad with the military, Shumba said. Undergraduates are typically in their late 20s or early 30s.

The cybersecurity program at the school has a higher percentage of women than the roughly 8 percent that were in the cybersecurity workforce as of 2011, she said.

“Men and women working together may bring different types of experience and perspectives to understanding, identifying and ameliorating potential threats,” Shumba said.