Thirteen tech-savvy computer science students will graduate from Southeast Missouri State University Dec. 15 prepped with the skills for success in the world of computing.
They are entering an industry integrated into almost every aspect of life and in critical need of skilled and knowledgeable computer science graduates.
There is a huge shortage of students with computing skills, not just in Missouri but also across the nation and abroad, said Dr. Sumanth Yenduri, chair of Southeast’s Department of Computer Science. The department offers three different undergraduate programs serving various purposes and is preparing graduates to not only meet the demand but also to excel wherever they go.
“The curriculum, the teaching, out-of-classroom activities and student organization activities are all designed to equip our students with the right skills that are needed for the industry,” he said.
Among the graduates answering the industry’s call this December include Sarah Aldossari of Al Kharg, Saudi Arabia, who will receive a Bachelor of Science in computer science; Zach Buchheit of Jackson, Missouri, who will receive a Bachelor of Science in computer information systems; and Lucas Kossack of Grantsburg, Illinois, and Scott St. John of Wildwood, Missouri, both of whom will receive a Bachelor of Science in cybersecurity during commencement ceremonies at the Show Me Center Dec. 15.
Kossack said the preparation and experiences he received in and out of the classroom helped him turn an internship last summer with Mandiant, a FireEye company in Washington, D.C., into a full-time position as an associate consultant. He started his new position this past August, completing his last semester of coursework online with Southeast.
“Southeast’s cybersecurity program gave me a solid base knowledge of the field that allowed me to land my initial internship and quickly learn the nuances of the position on the job,” he said.
Kossack, who is a former team captain and member of Southeast’s cyber defense team which has won six-straight Missouri Collegiate Cyber Defense competitions, is putting the skills he learned at Southeast to work at Mandiant where he conducts penetration testing, red teaming and other types of security testing for a variety of companies and industries.
“As part of a team at Mandiant, I pose as an attacker and try to break into their computer networks and obtain sensitive information, after which I or the team report on how we gained access and any security issues that were noted in the process and how they can be mitigated,” he said.
The tools and resources embedded in the classroom curriculum have also allowed Buchheit to become a more well-rounded professional.
“Computers came naturally to me and are a medium that allows me to channel my problem-solving skills as well as my creativity,” Buchheit said. “Southeast has given me an education to peruse the career I want and has offered the personal experiences that I would not have been exposed to anywhere else.”
Beginning Jan. 1, Buchheit will begin his new position as a network administrator for Montgomery Bank in Sikeston, Missouri. He is excited to begin a career with a company he has been working with for more than three years.
“I started working at Montgomery Bank as a teller, and as an employer, they’ve supported me every step of the way, allowing me to grow in my career and work my way up in the company,” he said. “As a network administrator, I will be working on networking and servers, doing maintenance, upgrades, monitoring and control. This will also include working on upgrading servers, deploying new services and repairing current products.”
Partnering with industry leaders is a driving force behind how students secure positions, offering them the opportunity to seamlessly transition from student to professional, Yenduri said. Southeast’s Department of Computer Science is dedicated to working with employers across the marketplace, he said.
“We seek advice from various stakeholders to better prepare our students for real-world job opportunities,” he said.
Aldossari says access to opportunities at Southeast has given her experiences that employers value and has propelled her on a path towards a successful future.
“My experience at Southeast and the classes that I have taken have prepared me to work in any field,” Aldossari said. “I can be a software developer, database administrator or teacher. There are so many opportunities.”
Aldossari hopes to use her skills in the education or training disciplines, but no matter where she lands, she says she feels confident because of the experiences she’s already gained as a student.
“My favorite class was my capstone class which gave me the opportunity to work with Big River Communication, a real company in Cape Girardeau, and apply what I was learning in the classroom,” she said. “I learned about how to be responsible and manage my time to deliver projects on time. The class helped me a lot.”
Like Aldossari, St. John says Southeast has given him the confidence to pursue a career in a field he enjoys
“I love technology and have a passion for learning new things,” he said. “Cybersecurity is one of those fields that requires you to be technical and is constantly changing, so there is an infinite amount of new opportunities you can pursue.”
Scott St. John
He said his hard work and dedication at Southeast helped him turn an internship last summer with BJC HealthCare in St. Louis into a full-time position as a threat and vulnerability management specialist. He started his new position in September, working remotely and completing his last semester of coursework online with Southeast. He will officially begin working on location at BJC Dec. 17.
As a member of BJC’s Threat and Vulnerability Management Team, St. John keeps an accurate inventory of devices residing internally and externally on BJC’s network, identifies security vulnerabilities and develops remediation plans based on the organization’s highest risks.
Working at BJC will be an excellent career launchpad, said St. John, who hopes in the next six months to get a Security+ Certification, an international credential validating he has the baseline skills to perform core security functions. Over the next two years, he also hopes to become an Offensive Security Certified Professional, an ethical hacking designation affirming his knowledge in penetration testing methodologies and tools.
St. John says Southeast was the foundation and springboard for him to be successful, underscoring it was a smart investment for a high-quality cybersecurity degree.
“By choosing Southeast, I was getting the best of both worlds,” he said.
St. John also said he was inspired by faculty during his time at Southeast.
“My professor Dr. Vijay Anand’s passion for the betterment of the cybersecurity program has really inspired me to work hard and be passionate about what you do.”