Success Starts Here: College Cybersecurity Clubs

It’s spring college recruiting season. In the past, KeyW recruiters and technical staff have had to brave freezing rain, snow and bitter cold as we’ve trekked throughout the mid-Atlantic to find interns and full-time employees to join our company. This year looks like we’ll be in shorts and short sleeves as we seem to be in the middle of an incredibly early spring.

College recruiting season is always exciting as we get a chance to talk with students in a variety of disciplines we’re actively recruiting for, including cybersecurity, mechanical and electrical engineering, computer science and digital imaging. It’s amazing to hear the projects the students are involved in, both inside the classroom and on their own time. It’s also where we get to spend time with student clubs and hear about their technical and community service programs. Honestly, talking to students during these visits is motivational, and the team tends to come back to headquarters with more energy than when we left.

Cyber: A New Domain

I’ve been recruiting for cybersecurity staff on college campuses for more than 10 years now, and it’s been interesting to watch the evolution of cyber-related programs change. Ten years ago, undergraduate cyber programs were just coming on the scene. Certainly, at the graduate level at places like Perdue and Georgia Tech, great programs have turned out some incredible students. But it’s rare to find someone over the age of 32 who has an undergraduate degree in something specifically information security or cybersecurity related.

Starting 10 to 12 years ago, universities around the country recognized the need for formal cyber undergrad programs. However, in the absence of a structured curriculum, most institutions leveraged their facility to come up with the program and often from scratch. Unlike math or mechanical engineering, where students should learn a commonly accepted set of knowledge in the course of their education, cyber is a new domain with little prior art to guide schools.

So schools were a bit out in the wilderness and had to cut their own path, leading to cyber programs taking on different directions, depending on where you went to school. Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), for example, is an applied school, and its cyber program reflects this. Students get a great deal of hands-on time with different security technologies and graduate as practitioners in their field. Penn State, on the other hand, has programs focused more on policy and the analytic aspect of cybersecurity. Although both programs are well constructed and turn out solid graduates, the material students learn in both schools is incredibly different.

Join the Club

The students in these programs are aware of these differences. When they attend conferences and interact with students in other schools, they realize cybersecurity is a very broad industry with far more to learn than can be taught in the classroom. A by-product of these differences has been the creation of many student-run cybersecurity clubs. SPARSA and RC3 at RIT and the IAClub at Penn State are all active, mature student-run clubs that provide additional resources and guidance for students interested or majoring in a cyber-related field. From talking with students in these organizations over the years, these clubs have been influential in shaping them as cybersecurity professionals.

When I was in college, we didn’t have cyber programs or cyber clubs. I learned much of what I know now by doing independent research and projects with my friends. It’s exciting to see this kind of learning continuing on college campuses around the country. Due to the ever-changing nature of cyber, professionals in our industry must continually learn to stay current. These clubs help develop better cyber pros and put them on a road to be successful throughout their career. We could take a page or two from their book.

Feel free to share your thoughts with me on the topic.

Bruce

By Bruce Potter / March 1, 2017