Underscoring the importance of investing in Missouri’s future workforce, Southeast Missouri State University today announced its growing Bachelor of Science in cybersecurity is one of only four programs nationally to receive accreditation this month from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc., (ABET).
The University’s Bachelor of Science in computer science also has been reaccredited by ABET.
Dr. Carlos Vargas, president of Southeast Missouri State University, made the announcements in conjunction with a visit by Missouri Gov. Michael L. Parson to Southeast. Both Vargas and Parson touted the creation of high impact STEM jobs as vital to a modern economy in Missouri. The announcement came at the site of Southeast’s future cyber range, expected to open in spring 2019.
Vargas said ABET accreditation is significant because until now, no program-specific accreditation for cybersecurity programs existed. Last fall, ABET invited just four schools nationally to participate in a pilot accreditation process for cybersecurity. Through the process, Southeast’s undergraduate cybersecurity program was awarded accreditation last week. Southeast and the other three schools that participated in the pilot program are now the only accredited cybersecurity programs in the nation.
Southeast launched its Bachelor of Science in cybersecurity in 2011 to meet the growing need for security of computer networks and systems that store digital personal, financial, health and governmental records. At the time, Southeast’s cybersecurity program was one of its kind in Missouri and one of less than 50 nationally. The program has grown from 15 students in its infancy to more than 150 students today.
For the past six years, Southeast’s cyber defense team has won the Missouri Collegiate Cyber Defense competition and has advanced to and consistently finished in the top five at the Midwest Regional Cyber Defense Competition which draws teams from schools in 12 Midwest states.
Southeast’s cybersecurity graduates are increasingly sought after by tech-savvy employers who rely on cyber-infrastructure for their operations. Cybersecurity graduates are needed for crucial roles in national and international industries and private and public-sector companies, which increasingly have become targets of stolen information.
“Southeast has become a preferred university for recruiting among top-level companies,” said Dr. Vijay Anand, director of Southeast’s cybersecurity program, faculty advisor to Southeast’s cyber defense team and associate professor of computer science. “These types of companies always visit Ivy League universities, but our cybersecurity students are that good.”
Companies such as Dell Secure Works, AIG, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ameren have hired Southeast student interns and graduates, Anand said.
Cybersecurity students also will be able to advance their education in a new Master of Science in cybersecurity beginning next spring at Southeast. The Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education recently approved the new program focusing on critical societal and business infrastructure – water, power, communications, military, healthcare and transportation – to meet this need.
The U.S. Department of Labor expects a 22 percent growth in job demand over the next decade in this area as security against hackers and disruption is a continual, ongoing and growing concern. Business and agency leaders regularly express the need for highly trained employees in cyber protection, and Southeast is prepared to help fill this niche, he said.
Vargas also announced that work on a Cyber Range at Southeast will begin in the coming weeks in Dempster Hall, providing an enhanced environment for specialized cybersecurity testing and training. It will serve as both a resource to students and faculty and assist in providing the infrastructure to host and promote education and training opportunities.
“It is our hope that this space, along with our demonstrated academic success, will serve as a catalyst for creating a centralized point for encouraging and promoting partnerships between government, industry, education and other sectors in this critically important area,” Vargas said.
Those on hand for the announcement also celebrated the reaccreditation by ABET of Southeast’s Bachelor of Science in computer science. The program, first accredited in fall 2010, was reaccredited under new pilot guidelines in 2017. Southeast was among a small number of institutions choosing to pilot under the new evaluation process. The reaccreditation reaffirms the program is meeting standards to produce graduates prepared for the global workforce.
One of the key elements of ABET accreditation is the requirement that programs continuously improve the quality of education provided. As part of this continuous improvement requirement, programs set specific, measurable goals for their students and graduates, assess their success at reaching those goals, and improve their programs based on the result of their assessment.
Vargas called Southeast’s programs in computer science, computer information systems and cybersecurity “second to none.”
Programs in Southeast’s Department of Computer Science serve more than 400 students in three undergraduate programs and nearly 50 students in a new Master of Applied Computer Science being offered for the first time this fall. The programs are increasingly in demand among tech-savvy students who are looking to take their skills to the next level and are helping fill the need for qualified employees in local, regional, state and national arenas.
As evidence of that, a team of Southeast computer science students took third place last fall in a 24-hour artificial intelligence programming competition, finishing behind two teams made up entirely of industry professionals.
Dr. Sumanth Yenduri, chair of the Department of Computer Science, says graduates of Southeast’s computer science programs have gone on to be employed by companies such as Google, Garmin, Vizient, Microsoft and J.P. Morgan.
“There isn’t a discipline or job that doesn’t need computer science,” said Dr. Sumanth Yenduri, chair of the Department of Computer Science. “They are also highly paid and needed in every type of industry.”
Yenduri says the number of job openings for computer science graduates will outpace the number of graduates through 2024.
“Missouri’s projected growth rate for all STEM occupations from 2014 to 2024 is 9.6 percent,” Yenduri said. “Six of the top 10 occupations with the greatest number of projected openings are related to computers.”
Computer science graduates top the list of projected highest paid Master of Science graduates with an average projected salary of $81,039, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the job outlook for software developers is expected to grow 24 percent from 2016 to 2026.
Vargas concluded saying Southeast will continue innovating and developing high tech programs such as cybersecurity and its new geographic information science, industrial and systems engineering, Unmanned Aircraft Systems and others across all disciplines to boost local, regional, state and national economies.
**Top Photo Caption: Gov. Parson toured a computer lab, greeting Southeast students as President Carlos Vargas looks on.