WATERVILLE — Thomas College will receive $974,000 from the federal government to expand its cybersecurity program and help more students gain a foothold in burgeoning and potentially lucrative fields.
The funding is part of the $10.2 million allocated to Maine’s colleges and universities and workforce development programs from a massive total spending bill approved by Congress last month.
According to university president Thomas Edwards, the money Thomas will receive will be used in several ways, including tuition assistance, scholarships, technology upgrades, and professional development of staff and students.
“We are all affected and rely on security,” says Edwards. “It’s the same with electrical and other types of infrastructure that we have. We need to invest.”
Frank Appunn, Professor of Cybersecurity at Thomas, says that as technology advances, it creates more value and creates more risk for businesses. Cybersecurity is the work of minimizing these risks and protecting their value.
“Technology has allowed us to offer something new, better and more affordable,” says Appunn. “But with technology comes new risks, too. So as technology creates value, we also need to defend against the abuse that it can create.”
Companies, government agencies, nonprofits, schools, hospitals, and many other sectors of the economy need cybersecurity experts.
Criminals can use malware to shut down your business or steal your personal data. They may also be looking for unexpected information, such as the names of children who have never opened a bank account, whose identities could be used for money laundering, Appunn said.
As the use of technology expands across industries, the demand for cybersecurity knowledge is growing, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many to work remotely or hybridly.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average wage for an information security analyst is $102,600 in 2021, and job openings for these workers are expected to grow 35% over the decade to 2031, which is is well above the average job growth rate of 5%. over the same period.
About 19,500 information security analyst jobs are projected each year through 2031.
“We know these are high paying jobs. We know these are high paying careers,” Edwards said. Through us, we know that the ability to operate in a hybrid or online environment, a technology-rich environment, is going to be really very important to the economy of the future.
“I think this is a win for everyone by looking at the students we serve and giving them a direct path to the really best career path.”
Appunn said Thomas College has relationships with several companies that offer jobs to cybersecurity graduates, and the college could easily place twice as many students in those companies alone.
“Companies are having a hard time finding people with cyber skills,” said Appunn.
Appunn said Thomas’ program is designed to be accessible to students of all backgrounds. The university currently offers a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Cybersecurity, a Master’s Degree in Business Administration with a Cybersecurity Focus, and a Certificate in Advanced Studies.
Appunn has been involved in the development of this program since its inception in 2013. He said part of the curriculum’s goal is to provide a broad education that enables students to graduate with technical, communication, and business skills.
Daniel DeMiro, for example, studied criminal justice at Thomas, worked in physical security at a bank, and found himself dedicated to money laundering. However, her company, and the financial industry, have noticed an increase in the incidence of digital attacks. She said she had the opportunity to work in technology and she enjoyed it.
She didn’t have a background in computer science, but decided to pursue a master’s degree in cybersecurity from Thomas. She had to study on her own to keep up with her technical skills, but she graduated with her degree in 2020. A few weeks later she found a higher level job.
Demillo is currently working as an Assurance Practice Manager at Tyler Technologies Inc. based in Plano, Texas. She manages the people who test security systems and find weaknesses.
She said Thomas’ class prepared her for a role that required technical knowledge, managing others and handling budgets.
“It didn’t teach me everything, but it taught me how to think, how to make sense of things, which is huge,” DeMiro said. “It’s not just the material. How I use my skills to understand what I don’t know was a big takeaway from this program. It was literally a game changer for my career.” ”
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