CSUSM responds to demand for cybersecurity

CSUSM responds to demand for cybersecurity
Professor Dr. Shahed Sharif discusses encryption algorithms during Tuesday’s cryptology class at Cal State University San Marcos. The class is part of the school’s first cybersecurity master’s program. Photo by Steve Puterski

SAN MARCOS — As the world becomes more virtually connected day by day, the need for quality cybersecurity is in high demand.

As a result, the brain trust at Cal State University San Marcos has launched a unique master’s program — the only one of its kind in California — in conjunction with industry leaders to combat cyber threats.

Deans Jim Hammerly (college of business administration) and Katherine Kantardjieff (science and mathematics) partnered to bring a cohort program for working adults to the school, which launched on Sept. 8.

The cohort philosophy brings a group of students — this semester the total is 12 — through the program together over the next 2 ½ years, with the final semester saved for a semester in residence, an “internship on steroids” within the cybersecurity industry, Hammerly and Kantardjieff said.

“It’s the first of its kind,” he added. “We don’t see it (cybersecurity) dying out anytime soon.”

One of Hammerly’s primary goals is to keep pace with market demand, and in cybersecurity, the field is only expected to grow.

Kantardjieff, meanwhile, began the process of creating the program about three years ago. With input from university advisory boards and industry leaders, she was able to create a curriculum based on the needs of the industry.

Included in the process were the San Diego Cyber Center of Excellence, the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation and a cyber industry advisory committee.

Although the degree is a master’s of Science, Kantardjieff said the partnership with the college of business is also beneficial because of the unique aspects of the courses.

While the program features classes such as cryptography, it also includes regulatory, financial, business and risk assessment courses. Those business classes are to assist the students in identifying numerous potential problems within an entity instead of just focusing on the technical aspects of cybersecurity.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect was how fast the Cal State University Chancellor’s office approved the program. Kantardjieff said the proposal was submitted in May and given the green light in June.

While the class has only 12 students — who attend at nights Tuesday through Thursday — she expects the program to reach its goal of 24 to 25 students next year. In addition, since word of the program has begun to spread, she said future plans may include cohorts to work with a specific company.

“The classes would be on-site or live streamed,” Kantardjieff added. “The one hallmark of this program … is we didn’t do it in a vacuum. We did it in collaboration with industry leaders from day one. It was a case of what do we need to do to help that (cybersecurity).”

The creation of the program also helps with the school’s budding military veteran enrollment, which already have government security clearances and are looking to transition from the armed forces into the private sector.

“There is a need to retool the workforce and take it to the next level,” Kantardjieff said.

As for the cost, the program runs at $30,172 ($794 per unit) for the degree, although financial aid is available.

As for admissions, students must have a baccalaureate degree in computer science, a related field with equivalent work experience, In addition, students must have earned a 3.0 GPA in their upper-division undergrad computer science courses and at least a 2.5 GPA in the last 60 semester (or 90 quarter) units attempted.

Students must also have two letters of recommendation unless they are sponsored by their employer, be U.S. citizens and are subject to a possible background check.

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