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As Demand for Cybersecurity Experts Skyrockets, Clark College Launches New Degree Program

Published: June 10, 2021, 1:37am

One thing the Covid pandemic has taught us is how much of our activities can be conducted online: Buying groceries, attending meetings, even watching the latest blockbuster movie.

Unfortunately, all this digital activity has taught some of us another hard lesson: Not everything we do online is secure from hackers, malware, and other cyber-criminals.

As a result, the demand for qualified cybersecurity experts has skyrocketed, says Michael Tucker, lead professor for the cybersecurity program at Clark College in Vancouver, Wash.

“Cybersecurity hasn’t always been its own unique trade,” Tucker said. “Typically, it has been done by people who were previously network administrators or network architects. It’s turning into another section of the Information Systems department.”

That’s why Clark College launched its new Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Cybersecurity (CBAS) in 2020. The program’s first cohort of students are midway toward their bachelor’s degrees, and are preparing to enter a rapidly growing field where their skills will be in high demand.

Cybersecurity analysts work with companies and organizations to protect an organization’s digital networks and systems. They help develop new mechanisms to secure data—like multifactor authenticity systems and encryption methods—as well as help employees and customers to protect
their digital security. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for cybersecurity analysts was $103,590 per year in 2020, and the field is anticipated to grow by 31 percent over the next 10 years.

“New vulnerabilities and threats come out every single day,” Tucker said. “It’s something we have to keep on top of. We train students to keep on top of it.”

With such a fast-paced industry, Tucker said it’s easy to bring real-life issues relating to cybersecurity into the classroom. In recent months, classes studied how an outdated version of Windows and a weak cybersecurity network allowed hackers to access a Florida wastewater treatment plant’s computer system and momentarily tamper with the water supply. More recently, they also covered how a cyberattack on fuel pipeline operator Colonial Pipeline led to a shutdown of its entire network, which is the source of nearly half of the East Coast’s fuel supply.

“The program focuses on the fundamental ideas behind cybersecurity. We have students engage in listening to, and writing about, the latest threats and vulnerabilities by building them into the lesson plans,” Tucker said.

The program was designed to align with standards from the National Institute of Science and Technology, along with input from local employers, to ensure graduates have the skills needed for today’s workforce.

Tristan Colo is about a year away from getting his bachelor’s degree in the program, and has been working in the cybersecurity field since getting his associate degree in Network Technologies from Clark some five years ago. He said professors’ willingness to jump on current trends and adapt to what’s going on outside the classroom has made the program a great way to prepare for life after school. When Covid forced everyone to attend remotely, it only added to the professional atmosphere of the program, he said.

“A lot of IT work these days is basically like that,” Colo said. “I work for a company whose main office is in Kent [Wash.]. We’re working from multiple sites, and we don’t meet up on a campus centrally. That would be a lot of money and time wasted. It’s honestly more realistic to what the environment is.”

Colo said he was interested in the CBAS program because many companies say they want a bachelor’s degree in addition to his experience in the field. Since he had already attended Clark, and knew he could get a bachelor’s degree there for less money than at other schools, it made sense to apply for the program.

Clark’s Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Cybersecurity is a 90-credit, 18-month program with full-time and part-time options, and it’s open to students with any associate degree. The cost per term for a full-time (15 credit) course load in the program is $2,340 plus books, supplies, and miscellaneous fees.

Colo was also interested in the program because of the promise of getting to work in Clark’s technology lab. Tucker said the lab is actually a virtual lab, meaning students access it through a Virtual Private Network (VPN). It is not unlike logging into a web-based email account, but in this case, the student is logging into the virtual lab powered by powerful, enterprise level servers on the Clark campus.

Even with students off campus for the last year-plus, they’ve been able to access the same activities from home that they’d be doing in an on-campus lab, Tucker said. If anything, it has made the program feel more like real-world IT work.

“Covid has opened the opportunity to realize what a standard IT team does,” Colo said. “Security teams aren’t going to be the people plugging things in. They’re going to be walking people through the tech remotely.”

Tucker added that the remote nature of the program the last year-plus has led to more creativity on the students’ part.

One thing students had the opportunity to do was purchase Raspberry Pi computers for $35. The Raspberry Pi is a single-board computer that plugs into a computer monitor or TV, and allows users explore computing and to learn how to program. Students in Tucker’s classes used it to build a remote control and a light sensor, while others used it to create an air-quality monitoring system to track the air during last year’s wildfires.

Colo said using the Raspberry Pi is another affordable aspect of the program.

“You just pay for it once and you can use it for a long time,” he said. “It’s a good way to have a student run a server at home that isn’t an expensive piece of hardware.”

Another way Tucker aims to make sure students feel supported, no matter their schedule, is by providing support opportunities on nights and weekends. He said he’s had support sessions for students on Friday nights and Saturdays in the current term because that’s when students had available time. The program also offers free peer tutoring through a student run support center operating throughout the week. During the pandemic, this has been done virtually.

With a growing need in the field and a supportive environment, it’s no wonder the program is expanding. Tucker said the original plan called to add another cohort within three to five years, but they’re already going to start adding cohorts in the spring and fall moving forward.

“It’s an industry that’s desperate for professionals,” Colo said. “The more we can get the general population aware of that, the more we can all protect ourselves in the long run. We need people to really start embracing cybersecurity as a mindset.”

Phone: Michael Tucker, 360.947.6011
Email: mtucker@clark.edu
Website: www.clark.edu/getstarted/cyber.php
Facebook: Facebook.com/ClarkCollege

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