More graduate and Ph.D programs are training the next generation of cyber warriors. (Daniel Fishel)

During her senior year as an undergraduate at West Virginia University, Rebecca Solorzano finally had enough prerequisites under her belt to take the cyber-crime class she’d been intrigued by. “I just fell in love with the topic,” she says.

Already majoring in criminology, she was too far along at that point to switch up her bachelor’s degree. So as she finished at West Virginia, she also began researching the next steps that could help her succeed in this fast-growing field. That’s how Solorzano, 24, landed in the M.S. in cybersecurity program at Marymount University.

She finished her master’s in May 2018 and now works for a contractor for the Department of Homeland Security, assessing the cybersecurity practices of third-party vendors to ensure they meet DHS’ standards. “My master’s degree has definitely already opened so many doors for me,” she says. “And I’m excited to see how many more doors it can open.”

There are plenty of opportunities for students like Solorzano in this ever-expanding industry, where the supply of employees is struggling to keep up with demand. A 2017 study by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education forecasts a global cybersecurity workforce gap of 1.8 million by 2022. CyberSeek, an online interactive tool supported by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, reported more than 300,000 cybersecurity job openings in the United States as of press time. The D.C. metro area alone had more than 43,000 openings.

And companies aren’t just looking for expert coders and hackers. It’s also become important for the employees who make policy, legal and even basic business decisions to possess an understanding of cybersecurity.

“We need people in stand-alone cybersecurity programs who can get a very robust depth of knowledge in the more technical facets,” says Diana Burley, executive director and chair of the Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection at George Washington University, who also co-chairs a joint task force on cybersecurity education. “But we also need people who are able to perform a variety of different roles with at least a minimum amount of cybersecurity knowledge, so they can make informed decisions.”

High-profile cyberattacks on companies like Target, Facebook and Equifax have shined a spotlight on the far-reaching effects of breaches. It’s not just a company’s IT department that’s getting blamed; CEOs and other leaders are getting called out too. In his 2017 executive order on federal cybersecurity, President Trump said agency heads will be held accountable for cybersecurity risk management.

If you’re a prospective graduate student looking to make yourself an attractive candidate for a cybersecurity position, there are lots of options. George Washington University offers a master’s of cybersecurity strategy and information management through its College of Professional Studies. The 5-year-old program was designed in consultation with government, military and law enforcement organizations, and helps train students interested in decision-making rather than technical cybersecurity roles.

“It’s geared toward people who want to do something that involves leadership and management,” says Connie Peterson Uthoff, associate program director in the Strategic Cyber Operations and Information Management Program at GWU. “This master’s will make them more competitive, especially in the federal government.”

Retired Marine Kevin Dulany already had a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity and 18 years of technical experience in the field when he enrolled in the GWU master’s program. “It’s more about the strategic construct than the technical implementation,” says Dulany, 52, who works in risk management at the Department of Defense. “A lot of times people don’t link the two together, but part of your cybersecurity strategy is based upon information management.”

George Mason University, which offers a dozen graduate certificate, master’s and doctoral programs that incorporate cybersecurity, is part of a consortium spearheaded by the Greater Washington Partnership that’s working to develop a digital credential that will give more students exposure to topics like cybersecurity and machine learning.

“It’s not just about graduating more cybersecurity engineers,” says Liza Wilson Durant, associate dean of strategic initiatives and community engagement at GMU’s Volgenau School of Engineering. “We need to widen that pipeline of people who have possibly been exposed to this kind of learning.”

Students interested in the technical side of cybersecurity might want to check out the master’s in computer science program at Howard University. They can obtain a graduate certificate in cybersecurity, which includes coursework in things like cryptography, encryption systems and the vulnerabilities around the “internet of things.”

“The terrain is changing, the number of attacks is increasing and the number of personnel qualified to be cyber warriors is not there,” says Moses Garuba, associate dean of Howard’s College of Engineering and Architecture. “Addressing the technical questions is where the rubber meets the road.”

Garuba says the computer science master’s program has a 100 percent job placement rate, with students going on to positions in the federal government, at consulting firms and at big companies like Google and Microsoft.

Babur Kohy completed his cybersecurity master’s degree at Marymount in 2015. He enrolled in Marymount’s new cybersecurity doctorate program (D.Sc.) to support those endeavors and increase his knowledge of the topic. Since graduating, he’s been working in both technical and policy roles in the public and private sectors and teaching classes at Marymount and Northern Virginia Community College.

Kohy, 31, says he has a passion for learning, a necessity in an industry where new things can pop up seemingly overnight. “There’s always something new outside of the boundaries that you thought you needed to know, so be prepared to continuously learn,” he says.

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