In its ongoing effort to help combat a global shortage in cyber security professionals, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has created a Master’s in Cyber Security, a new graduate program that prepares students to be leaders in the fields of cyber security and computer science. The program features real-world experiential learning and research to prepare students for the evolving cyber-threat landscape. The program will launch in fall 2021 and applications are currently being accepted.
A global need exists for more well-trained security professionals to help protect organizations vulnerable to security breaches, which cost the global economy hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Employment in the cyber security field has to increase by about 41% in the U.S. and 89% worldwide to meet the need, according to a study by (ISC)², a nonprofit association of certified cyber security professionals.
WPI’s new master’s draws from the university’s expertise across the computer science, electrical and computer engineering, and mathematical sciences departments and its Foisie Business School to provide students with highly sought-after technical skills and insight into applying those skills within a broad societal context.
“We recognize that the workforce needs professionals who can combine technical expertise in security with an understanding of its impact on people and businesses. Our new master’s in cyber security exposes students to each of these topics, ensuring that they can make a real impact,” said Craig Shue, associate professor, Computer Science. “WPI has the interdisciplinary depth, the flexibility, the focus on saying, ‘yes, you’re going to learn the foundations, but we’re also going to make sure you know how to apply them. It’s what WPI is all about.’”
Students choose courses that match their interests and specific career goals. A path of study may include applying security techniques, researching new techniques, or combining research with its application in policy and industry.
WPI’s program has both a standard and an advanced academic track to accommodate those relatively new to the field who want to build experience in cyber security and those who’ve already studied cyber security or earned an undergraduate degree in a related field. Applicants are expected to demonstrate sufficient background in computing for graduate-level work and a background in developing or using software tools. A bachelor’s degree in computer science, electrical engineering, information technology, or other related fields should be adequate preparation. Students from other backgrounds may apply if they can demonstrate their readiness through other means, such as GRE exams, professional certifications, or relevant technical work experience.
WPI undergraduate student Carly Pereira ’21 plans to enroll in the new program when she graduates in May. “I was already a computer science major with a strong interest in cyber security, and I had planned to have a cyber security concentration as well. When I heard that Professor Shue was proposing a cyber security master's I was instantly interested,” she says.
“After already having taken some senior-level and grad-level cyber security classes, I knew that the professors were extremely invested in their research and dedicated to providing an interesting learning experience.” Pereira hopes to work with a federal agency, specifically in a research or risk management position.
Cyber security jobs are in areas as diverse as intrusion detection, security information and event management, and cloud computing. Finance, insurance, manufacturing, public policy, and defense are other areas where cyber security professionals play vital roles. The average annual cyber security salary is highest in North America at $112,000, according to the (ISC)² report. WPI is also helping fill this talent gap through its participation in the federal Scholarship for Service program funded by the National Science Foundation. This competitive scholarship provides full tuition for up to three years of a recipient’s full-time study of cyber security at the graduate or undergraduate level. WPI is one of only three universities in the state to receive NSF funding for the program.
The university is also designated a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Security by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, which gives students access to important cyber security research addressing a host of security threats across multiple disciplines.