Southeast Cybersecurity Grad Aims to Protect, Secure World’s Data with Ernst and Young

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To say that Southeast Missouri State University graduating senior Connor McGarr was sought after in the job market for his cybersecurity prowess is an understatement.

The Cape Girardeau native will cross the stage during commencement exercises May 11, closing the book on his undergraduate career and opening a new chapter as a consultant with Big Four accounting firm Ernst and Young in Houston, Texas. McGarr will put his skills to work providing consulting services to clients who purchase the firm’s cybersecurity services.

“I will be traveling all around the United States and the world to provide the services our clients have purchased,” he said. “Using a variety of techniques and methodologies, my team and I will be bettering our client’s cybersecurity posture.”

Soon to be an employee of one of the largest professional services firms in the world, McGarr says he’s looking forward to making a positive impact globally for clients and companies.

“Being able to do what I love in parts of the country I would have otherwise not been able to tour is something I am really excited about,” he said. “Knowing I will be traveling around the country and world to help secure organizations from malicious adversaries gives me a sense of purpose in life.”

He also looks forward to furthering research within the field to increase the knowledge of cybersecurity professionals.

His cybersecurity skills are in demand as massive data breaches continue to plague companies, putting online consumers of goods and services at enormous risk. Because security and privacy are intertwined like never before, having individuals who are highly trained to thwart these risks is more important than ever.

That’s why training students to meet the workforce demand for cybersecurity professionals is critical to our future, says Dr. Vijay Anand, director of Southeast’s cybersecurity program, faculty advisor to Southeast’s cyber defense team and associate professor of computer science.

“As long as there are people with malintent, there will always be the need for skilled professionals to protect our assets,” he says. “This skillset is in high demand.”

Connor chose Southeast because of the faculty’s commitment to student success and the reputation of the University’s cybersecurity program.

It’s no wonder Ameren, a Fortune 500 utility company, snagged McGarr in 2018 to work with its Cybersecurity Co-op in St. Louis, Missouri, where he worked with its Cybersecurity Architecture team. There he learned the intricacies of protecting the nation’s power grid and implementing best practices to promote security in a dynamic, digital environment.

From a very young age, McGarr has been fascinated with technology and the knowledge needed to troubleshoot technical issues. These interests, he says, inspired him to pursue a degree in cybersecurity.

“Organizations store copious amounts of data into paperless solutions, leaving behind digital footprints. The security and integrity of that information is vital,” he said. “The digital heartbeat of this day and age starts with me and my generation to protect that information.”

He hopes that earning his cybersecurity degree will provide him the tools to do just that. McGarr will cross the stage along with 1,401 other spring graduates at Southeast May 11, marking the completion of a Bachelor of Science in computer science, cybersecurity option.

McGarr says he chose Southeast because of the faculty’s commitment to student success and the reputation of the University’s cybersecurity program. Southeast launched its cybersecurity program in 2011 which is now one of only four nationally to hold accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET) under its new program-specific criteria for cybersecurity. Southeast is also one of only three four-year institutions in Missouri and one of just 250 nationally to be designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education (CAE-CDE) by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Southeast’s cyber defense team has won seven consecutive state championships, and year after year, the program is preparing graduates to meet the growing needs for security of computer networks and systems at the local, national and international levels.

“Southeast is a very unique University because it has technically challenging degrees. Cybersecurity has become more mainstream, but Southeast was one of the first (cybersecurity) programs. Knowing that Southeast had a seasoned program with phenomenal faculty made my decision a no-brainer,” he said.

During his time at Southeast, McGarr has had a variety of experiences that have expanded his knowledge and skills.

McGarr also has been a member of Southeast’s Cyber Defense Team.

Connor (standing in foreground) helped coach Cape Central High School Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC) Cyber Patriot Team, helped the team as it won the Missouri state competition title in cyber defense in its inaugural year

“I’ve been blessed and fortunate enough to represent the University at the Missouri Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition and the Midwest Regional Cyber Defense Qualification Competition,” said McGarr. “Exploring downtown Chicago with my teammates while doing what we all love at the competition will be something I will cherish and carry with me for the rest of my life.”

This past year, McGarr was one of two students to coach the Cape Central High School Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC) Cyber Patriot Team. Under his training and guidance, McGarr helped the team as it won the Missouri state competition title in cyber defense in its inaugural year.

McGarr also has earned his Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) certification.

“My peers and I are going to be the driving force behind securing vital information. The importance of the work and the fact that we will truly make a difference in the world makes me excited to get to work,” he said.

Having the support of Southeast faculty has made his experiences at Southeast all the more significant and will have a lasting impact on his future career, McGarr said. He praised Anand as an exceptional role model.

“Dr. Anand is a seasoned veteran in the information security field. I value his opinion to the highest degree because he has practiced what he has preached to me over the last four years,” said McGarr. “Understanding the lessons he has passed on to me makes me less nervous for what I expect to encounter in the field.

“While I feel nostalgic as I reflect upon the last four years, I am excited to venture out into the world and hit the ground running in the cybersecurity industry,” said McGarr. “A career in cybersecurity has now come to fruition for me, and I could not be more excited and ecstatic.”

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