UMPI to launch new cybersecurity degree program in fall 2019

5 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Through collaborative efforts with the University of Maine System, the University of Maine at Presque Isle is ready to begin a new bachelor’s degree program in cybersecurity this fall.

In 2018, the UMaine System established the Maine Cybersecurity Center, aimed at providing support and oversight to any UMaine campus wishing to launch their own bachelor of science in cybersecurity program.

For the past several years UMPI has worked with Henry Felch, cybersecurity program coordinator at the University of Maine at Augusta, to develop a curriculum that focuses on preparing students for fields within cybersecurity, such as risk assessment, security engineering and information analysis.

The new program makes UMPI the second higher education institution in Aroostook County, after the University of Maine at Fort Kent, to offer a cybersecurity degree.

With the growing trend of cloud-based computer systems — digital data that can be accessed across multiple servers instead of traditional information technology infrastructure — the threat of cyber hacks has become a norm for small and large businesses, hospitals, schools and higher education institutions, among others.

UMPI President Ray Rice noted that equipping students with the exact knowledge needed to protect online data will be essential in helping them pursue an increasingly popular career field that can benefit any company. Graduates could find positions as forensic computer analysts, information security analysts, IT security engineers, vulnerability assessors or security architects.

“There are also numerous consulting opportunities,” Rice said. “Many local municipalities cannot afford to hire an IT expert, but still need someone to help protect their company’s data.”

UMPI and UMA have hired a full-time, tenure-track professor to teach cybersecurity on the Presque Isle campus. Fred Strickland, a cybersecurity expert and researcher currently based in Montgomery, Alabama, has taught computer science and programming, multimedia web development, network and IT security and other IT-related subjects at Troy University in Alabama and South University in Georgia. He is also a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, for which he worked in computer information security and was stationed multiple times at Loring Air Force Base in Limestone.

Jason Johnston, dean of UMPI’s College of Arts and Sciences, under which the cybersecurity program is based, said that in fall 2019 Strickland will begin teaching introductory level courses in computer science while developing upper-level courses for the program.

Thus far many students have expressed interest in enrolling and Johnston expects cybersecurity to quickly become a popular program for both local and out-of-state students.

“We’ve also developed a minor in cybersecurity that would be ideal for anyone majoring in business, mathematics or education,” Johnston said.

Johnston noted that the cybersecurity collaboration within the UMaine system will allow UMPI students to take courses through UMA’s program if necessary, and students from the UMA campus to enroll in UMPI courses. Strickland will teach courses offered both live and online and those can potentially be live-streamed to students across other campuses. All courses also will be offered during the summer for students who wish to earn their degree in three years instead of the traditional four years.

Being part of the Maine Cybersecurity Center also gives UMPI students access to the Cyberbit Range security and simulation platform, a virtual tool that allows them to simulate cyber attacks and practice the best ways to respond to security threats.

“This is truly a collaborative program,” Rice said. “Having the MCC in place allows the smaller campuses in the UMaine System access to resources they normally would not be able to invest in on their own.”

Due to the online nature of the cybersecurity field, Rice noted, many students could potentially complete internships for and obtain post-graduate employment with any company in Maine or across the country.

While growing the program, UMPI will look for ways to collaborate with local businesses and schools to increase public awareness of cybersecurity, in particular among high school students.

“We can see there being work opportunities at the national level for our graduates with this program,” Rice said. “It gives them the flexibility to choose where they want to work and live, which we hope might entice some to stay in Aroostook County.”