PHILIPPI, W.Va. — Alderson Broaddus University will be among the first institutions in the state to offer a bachelor’s degree in cyber security, with AB’s program beginning in fall 2018.

The Cyber Security program will prepare AB’s students for the multi-disciplinary aspects of securing software, networks, web and mobile systems. The institution announced its new program during a press conference held on the Alderson Broaddus campus Thursday.

Dr. Ross Brittain, Dean of the College of Science Technology & Mathematics, said this program will be a huge benefit to AB’s faculty and students.

“This is a field that is changing rapidly, virtually minute by minute, depending on how the cyber criminals are attacking the systems, and so we knew that we needed to be very flexible and adaptive,” Brittain said. “That’s one of the things that we consider an advantage of a smaller school is that we have that ability to be very flexible and adaptive.”

Brittain said interest in the program is already quite high, among both current students and prospective students.

“We’ve had recruiting events, even before we announced it, and we’d already had at least three or four recruits who heard rumors about the cyber security and are interested in our cyber security program going forward,” he said. “In terms of our existing computer science students who are interested in adding on a cyber security minor, I haven’t heard any final numbers on that, but I know there were at least a couple who were thinking about it.”

Though the bachelor’s program doesn’t officially begin until fall 2018, some current students are already adding a cyber security minor to their course load.

“We decided to make that effective this particular semester, the spring 2018 semester, that way any of our existing computer science students for example who wanted to add that on as a minor could do that right away,” Brittain said.

While the upcoming bachelor’s program is historic, the minor offering expands the number of students who can benefit from the new course offerings.

“Since we have a strong history of healthcare and education here at Alderson Broaddus, another one of the things that we want to do is give several electives for the students to be able to specialize in say healthcare or retail or financial data, securing those three types of data, as well as digital forensics, which is of course the study of trying to catch the cyber criminals themselves,” Brittain said.

To create such a program, administration at Alderson Broaddus created an University Alliance Advisory Board, comprised of the region’s leading cyber security experts.

“They helped advised us for this particular program and finalized the program,” Brittain said. “They made some very important contributions, like making sure we had not only a bachelor’s program but also an associate’s degree program and also made sure we had systems administrations skills or a particular skill that they wanted to see for our graduates who will become their employees in the future.”

Among those needed skills, Brittain, is basic programming.

“One of the things they’ve noticed is that a lot of people who are dealing with the forefront of cyber security issues, they’re trained in IT, and IT — information technology — is not software engineering; it’s not programming,” he said. “What they’ve noticed is that the people who are hacking into the systems are usually the software engineers or people who have training in programming, so they need somebody who knows enough programming to understand how the cyber criminals are attacking.”

The program coming to fruition was not only because of the hard work of the staff and faculty at AB, but also the foresight of Congressman David McKinley.

“He recognized that cyber security was becoming a major issue for our country, and he wanted to have people to help with security our cyber systems in the country, but in order to do that, they needed to train people,” Brittain said. “So his goal was then to try to get such institutions like AB here in West Virginia to create these types of programs.”

The initial draft proposal for the curriculum was completed in roughly six weeks, “which actually impressed Congressman McKinley because he figured it would be a year or two to get things ready,” he said.

Rep. McKinley said in a press release that foresight was sparked during the cyber security forum in August 2016, when a 2016 Cisco study showed that there are 209,000 unfilled cyber security jobs in America.

“As West Virginia’s economy continues growing and diversifying, this type of workforce training is critical to bring these jobs to the state,” he said. “With this new program, Alderson Broaddus is now leading the charge.”

In a time when West Virginia is struggling to keep its bright minds in the state following graduation, Brittain believes this program can help to decelerate that exodus.

“West Virginia has been suffering from a brain drain for quite awhile and is one of the few states in the country that is still losing population overall, not just the well-trained and educated ones but just population in general, due to a sluggish economy right now, so anything we can do to help bring better paying jobs.”

With the median salary for people in cyber security is $90,000 a year, that could significantly impact West Virginia’s economy.

“And many times these people can get started with just an associate’s degree,” Brittain said. “Then once they get hired in the industry, the industry will actually have them get the certification or special training they need that are specific to that industry. There may also be opportunities for them to also at that point provide funds for the students to be able to finish their bachelor’s degree or go on to pursue a master’s degree.”

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