Plymouth State University is launching a new cybersecurity certificate course in partnership with a private company, a first for the school that reflects how colleges are figuring out how they can adapt to a host of challenges and changes.
“It’s important for any institute of high education to be flexible in terms of meeting needs of community they’re intending to serve,” said Laura Dykstra, an assistant professor of criminal justice at PSU who spearheaded the development of the Center for Cybersecurity. In July it will launch a 24-week online bootcamp that uses material from an Israeli company that sells a variety of educational services related to online security.
“I think this kind of public-private partnership is very much a direction that higher education is moving. It’s very career-driven and career-oriented, which you’re seeing more and more in higher education.”
“It’s an opportunity to leverage the experience of higher education with a private entity that has put considerable effort and research into this area to develop some of these materials … that PSU can then adapt for our students,” she said.
The online bootcamp will be taught by two professors in the computer science department using the syllabus and computer platform from Cybint. The course will provide a certificate and isn’t part of a degree program.
“This has been on our radar for a while. We have created a minor in cybersecurity and were working on trying to create opportunities for non-matriculating students, working professionals,” said Dykstra. “The intention is by the time they complete this course, they’ll have the knowledge and skills to sit for industry certification.”
Dykstra said the program has been in the works for some 18 months, triggered by grants from Cybint to support such efforts. She said PSU was one of 527 applicants for the grants and, after three rounds of winnowing, one of 15 colleges and universities to be chosen.
Southern New Hampshire University has used Cybint previously to create a cybersecurity course for refugee and displaced learners abroad but the Plymouth State program appears to be the first locally.
The syllabus ranges from the general (“networking basics”) to the technical (“SQL injections”) to the philosophical (“ethical hacking”) to the practical (“cybersecurity career paths”), reflecting a range of possible students.
“There are two weeks of pre-class designed to gauge where students are. If they truly come in with no computer skills at all, we might refer them to some remedial class, but the assumption is they will come in with a working knowledge of computers, although not necessarily any sort of IT background,” Dykstra said.
“Instructors have the ability to delve more or less deeply into some of these topics. They might have a situation where a student asks a really specific question that might be beyond the scope of the class. Because instructors are full-time computer science professors, they’re willing and able to delve into that information.”
Dykstra said the two assistant professors – A.M.A. Elman Bashar and Sriharsha Mallapuram – worked with Cybint to hone the course for PSU.
“It uses Cybint’s online learning platform …similar to the way we might use educational platforms provided by textbook publishers. It’s a useful tool and also gives students access to Cybint’s virtual machines and live-range training,” she said. “We worked with Cybint to put together scenario-based opportunities. Students will have to respond, to apply what they’re learning, in real time.”
The pandemic has raised the profile of cyber-security as the increase in remote work and remote learning has increased the connections where hackers can get into a corporate or government systems and also increased the number of businesses with an online presence. Another factor is the parade of news about large-scale data breaches, ransomware attacks and identity theft.
Most colleges and universities in the Northeast are facing financial headwinds due to declining numbers of graduating seniors, compounded by the pandemic limiting on-campus teaching. Developing alternate types of courses is one of the responses that many schools are taking.
PSU says its 2020 enrollment was steady from past years.
The course costs $10,000, which includes use of the materials for six months after graduation. For details, see www.plymouth.edu/cybersecurity