Jul 24, 2015

GMU launches first Cyber Security Engineering degree in the country

The Long and Kimmy Nguyen Engineering Building

With much fanfare and attention from local dignitaries, George Mason University (GMU) officially launched this spring the first Cyber Security Engineering degree program in the country. 

“If you’re in this program, you’re very smart,” Senator Mark Warner, D-Va., told students during a ribbon-cutting event in the atrium of Mason’s Long and Kimmy Nguyen Engineering Building. “You will have careers for as long as you need them.”

Capitalizing on Mason’s location in the Washington D.C. suburbs and its proximity to major defense agencies and contractors, the new cyber security bachelor of science program seeks to provide the training necessary to “prevent” cyber security problems—not just “fix old ones.”  

According to Peggy Brouse, founder and director of GMU’s engineering-based major, other cyber security programs take a more reactive approach and teach students to solve problems or reduce risks within existing systems.  Using a more proactive approach during design and implementation phases theoretically minimizes the possibility of cyber-attacks in government, defense, energy, finance, transportation, health care and a variety of other technology-based industries.

In a presentation for Washington area independent educational consultants, Dr. Brouse outlined an innovative curriculum she described as being “the hardest program at the university” requiring at least 126 total credit hours (45 of which must be at level 300 or above) and a senior “advanced” design project.

But she assured the group that the training received would be well worth the effort:  "We already have companies that want to start putting people in as interns.” In fact, employers have told her, “We’ll hire anyone you can graduate.”

The DC metropolitan area already provides a wealth of cyber security job opportunities both in the private and public sectors, with federal spending projected to be about $13.3 billion this year.

The program unofficially started with over 80 students last year and expects to grow to about 300 this fall.  “The interest has been overwhelming,” said Lauren Wagner, senior assistant director of admissions.

And the reach of the program extends beyond the new engineering major to specific concentrations within the Information Technology degree—also the first in the country—for students who don’t love physics or calculus.  A graduate program in cyber security is also on the drawing board, according to Dr. Brouse.

In addition to high level academics, the engineering school offers summer camps and outreach to high school students, engages in continuous extensive networking with cyber industry employers and also can claim the first student-run cyber security organization in the country. And the Volgenau-based Center for Secure Information Systems, established in 1990, was the first academic center in security at a US university.

Factors considered for admission to the Cyber Security Engineering degree program include

  • Cumulative high school grade point average,
  • Level of difficulty of coursework elected throughout high school particularly in English, math, laboratory science, and foreign language, and
  • Standardized test scores.

While extremely proud of pioneering a new degree in an area of great interest to prospective undergrads, Mason staff wants to remind applicants that GMU students graduate with the lowest debt of any in the Commonwealth of Virginia and they boast of having the highest initial incomes.

More information on GMU’s new BS in Cyber Security Engineering may be found on the Volgenau School of Engineering webpage.

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