Dominating the Cyber Defense Domain
by Nathaniel Miller
Being recognized as a National Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense is more than securing a prominent designation for St. Mary’s University — it also guarantees for students that their program is recognized by the federal government.
Awarded by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, the St. Mary’s Master of Science in Cybersecurity is the first in San Antonio to obtain the recognition for its master’s program.
“Graduates of a program designated by the NSA and DHS must know specific sets of knowledge and must have hands-on lab experience in some areas,” said Ayad Barsoum, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Computer Science and Graduate Program Director of Cybersecurity.
After a multi-year process, the agencies apply the designation to validate institutions with a comprehensive and robust cybersecurity program. To receive the institution-wide designation, St. Mary’s demonstrated having a cybersecurity program with full-time faculty contributing research and working collaboratively across disciplines; enrolling students who master specific sets of knowledge, gain real-world experience and participate in extracurricular cybersecurity challenges; creating cooperative agreements to accept students from two-year institutions; and implementing a university-wide security plan that includes training for all employees.
“Receiving this elite designation from NSA and DHS will open doors for the students and graduates of St. Mary’s University in this high-growth industry,” said Ian Martines, Ph.D., Interim Dean of the School of Science, Engineering and Technology.
Cybersecurity experts are in demand, with a global shortage of 2.72 million cybersecurity professionals, according to the (ISC)² 2021 Cybersecurity Workforce Study. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the job outlook for an information security analyst to increase by 33% between 2020 and 2030. The median annual pay for this role was $103,590 in 2020.
Gary Bevans, a graduate student in the program, said his career goal is to become a cybersecurity analyst and that having national agencies validate the master’s degree is an important designation.
“It’s a huge thing for the NSA to give that stamp of approval,” Bevans said. “It’s going to help the program move forward in positive ways.”