Area colleges advance their cyber programs

UMBC Tech Center

The UMBC Technology Center  (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

With the National Security Agency, United States Cyber Command, Defense Information Systems Agency and the National Institute of Standards and Technology all within the state’s borders, Maryland has become the epicenter for cyber security that politicians once predicted.

In fact, the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education recently released an interactive job supply and demand heat map: Maryland was one of eight states with the highest demand for cyber security jobs. Others include Virginia, Texas, California and New York. While demand is high in these areas, the map noted supply of workers is low with nearly 350,000 jobs available in the field across the country.

Stacey Smith, Cybersecurity Association of Maryland’s executive director, said companies that have cyber positions to be filled will tell you there is a need for more skilled workforce. Some academic institutions and programs are working on creating internships and apprenticeship opportunities to get the younger generation some real world expereince to bring to the companies in Maryland.

“Cyber security — the problem is only getting greater and therefore there is even more of a need for businesses to be focusing their efforts on the security of their business or their government agency or entity,” she said. “I do think Maryland is doing some really great things and continuing to generate really skilled and talented workforce. One of our biggest assets is our people that we have here. With the academic institutions, with the programs that the private sector have with some of the government agencies and training efforts together, I think that we’ve got a very skilled workforce and we need to continue to put our efforts toward making sure that we always do.”

Many local colleges and universities have created undergraduate and master’s degree courses to prepare students and turn them into qualified professionals ready to handle and protect important cyber data. And many of these students are already in the workforce – some work in information technology while others are already in cyber security.

“They are coming to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County for promotion potential and they want to brush up on their knowledge, their professional skills and advance their career,” said UMBC director of cyber security graduate program, Dr. Richard Forno. “Not many of my students are looking to break into the field out of the blue. They are already in the field doing something with cyber but we are seeing more younger students, recent college graduates who want to continue in their education and move into cyber. That demographic is shifting a little bit. It used to be all professionals now we are seeing a mix of professionals and younger folks.”

The University of Maryland University Campus has around 12,000 students earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees and certificates in cyber security. “What we are providing is a state of the art curriculum that is based on real world scenarios and techniques and hands-on tools used in today’s organizations so we are looking at ‘What are the skills, abilities and competencies that are needed by companies to actually get their job done’ when it comes to cyber securities,” said Dr. Emma Garrison-Alexander, UMUC’s vice dean of cyber security and information assurance. “How do they protect their investments? How do they protect their assets? How do they protect the data that is very sensitive and that they want to keep protected? So our curriculum is matched up to what is needed in the real world. …We are preparing students with the cyber security knowledge and skills that are immediately applicable to the work environment.”

Many UMUC cyber security professors are working in the field including as chief information security officers, engineers and cyber analysts. “When they come into the classroom, they are not just teaching theory,” she said. “They are actually teaching the curriculum in a way that has direct applicability to the real world.”

When UMBC created their cyber security program nearly a decade ago, they consulted local government and private sector employees about the qualities and ideal job candidates they would like to see come out of their program. “The top four or five things they told us they wanted had nothing to do with cyber,” Forno said. “They wanted people who could communicate, work well in teams, work well with others, (and) write well … so we structured our program in a way that took that into account so it provided a mix of both the cyber skills for professional but those soft skills to put that knowledge into practice effectively.”

While UMBC does not track graduate placements, Forno said he has seen some United States Army personnel complete the graduate program and be assigned directly to nearby Fort Meade. “We are preparing them for that role they are being groomed for,” he said.

Others have gone on to jobs in the private sector and government offices. UMUC has also seen their graduates prosper after graduation.

“We are not just about teaching students what they should know about cyber security, but we are also teaching them in such a way that they are gaining skills that they are going to be able to use in the workforce that are directly transferable from the classroom to the work environment,” Garrison-Alexander said.



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