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Cybersecurity programs working together

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Illustration by Tyler Hillis

Students studying cybersecurity at Whatcom Community College now have the option to transfer to Western after completion of the two-year associate degree to work toward their baccalaureate.

Currently, only seven students have transferred from Whatcom to Western to continue their degrees through this program to pursue higher education, which will nearly double their average beginning salaries upon completion.  

This program, called computer and information systems security, consists of mathematics, networking, software development and computer language courses.

David Bover, professor of computer science specializing in computer security, was one of the main facilitators in bringing the program to a reality.

The program began developing close to five years ago. Initially, the idea was to see if a two-year program could follow closely to what Whatcom was offering, but a few areas such as computer programming and mathematics needed strengthening in the Whatcom program, Bover said.

After much rejection and close to 11 drafts, not including sub-drafts of drafts, Western and Whatcom came to a negotiation and the curriculum was finally approved. Western began accepting transfer students who have completed their two-year associate at Whatcom for the first time during the 2014-15 academic year.

With the help of funding from Washington State, more community colleges will soon allow students to transfer to Western to finish their four-year degree, such as Olympic College, Poulsbo and Peninsula College.

The demand for cybersecurity employees is on the rapid incline, leaving plenty of jobs open for graduates, Bover said.

“The need for computer security professionals is just huge,” Bover said. “There are thousands, thousands of vacancies right now. New graduates going into a job in computer security are typically attracting six-figure salaries.”

The point of continuing on to get the four-year degree is to prepare students for careers, not solely limit them to specific areas of computer security, such as anti-virus software, said Rrushi, assistant professor at Western who worked closely with Bover throughout the entirety of designing the program.

Part of the program at Western includes a culminating project where students must work with local companies in small teams of students. They will then work with said company on certain aspects of the security of their systems, including, but not limited to, protection of secret client information.

Keith Raymond, transfer student from Whatcom, is one of the first students accepted into the program at Western. The transition between programs was hard because Western’s curriculum is heavily based on the programming side while Whatcom instructs more of the security side, Raymond said.

Raymond said he’s already had an internship with the FBI last summer, but found it’s not what he wants to go into.  

Raymond is looking to get more into penetration testing, or secure software development, which he says is harder to get a job in locally.

“Western doesn’t let you skate by. It’s going to challenge you to the fullest of your abilities. It’s going to make you do things you didn’t think you could do,” Raymond said. “That’s what I like about it, it’s a challenge and I like to be challenged.”

At the end of this year, the first transfer student from Whatcom to Western will graduate from this new program and will enter the workforce, said Mary Hall, computer science program coordinator.

 

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