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Colorado lawmakers invest in MSU Denver

Senate Bill 86 to pump $300,000 annually into educating the cybersecurity professionals of tomorrow.

By Lindsey Coulter

October 25, 2018

Students in computer classCybercriminals are everywhere, and preparing systems and professionals that can stay ahead of the game to protect sensitive data is increasingly critical. Recently, Metropolitan State University of Denver was one of several state higher-education institutions to receive funding from Senate Bill 86 to advance newer, more secure technologies — and to prepare students with the technical and legal skills as well as ethical knowledge — to protect individuals and organizations from cybercriminals.

Thanks to the efforts of President Janine Davidson, Ph.D., the MSU Denver legislative team and the testimony of faculty members, the University will receive $300,000 annually in SB 86 funds for the next five years to grow the new cybersecurity Bachelor of Science program and to develop a graduate-level program set to debut in fall 2019.

“They found a way to get us in the conversation, and President Davidson did a great job of testifying on our behalf,” said Henry Jackson, Ph.D., chair and associate professor, Criminal Justice and Criminology. “I think for the legislators, investing in MSU Denver was a no-brainer.”

Market analysis has shown that across Colorado and the country, thousands of cybersecurity jobs remain unfilled. The state’s higher-education investment aims to build a much-needed workforce, but the MSU Denver program is offering more than just hard technical skills. The bachelor’s degree program includes comprehensive, interdisciplinary cybersecurity curriculum and is run jointly by the Departments of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Computer Information Systems and Business Analytics, and Mathematical and Computer Sciences. It approaches cybersecurity in a way that prepares students with technical knowhow while also giving them a foundational understanding of human behavior as well as the laws involved in governing, prosecuting and punishing cybercriminals.

“There's a human element to cybersecurity in terms of protecting ourselves and knowing the risks as well, so we’re trying to offer those soft skills,” Jackson said. “We are very surprised that we had 76 students for the program that started this fall.”

Jackson — together with Janos Fustos, Ph.D., professor, Computer Information Systems; Steve Beaty, Ph.D., professor, Mathematical and Computer Sciences; and LiYing Li, Ph.D. professor, Criminal Justice and Criminology — developed the program to prepare students to walk straight into well-paying cybersecurity careers and to navigate and develop cutting-edge blockchain technology.

SB 86 funding further benefits Roadrunners by providing $30,000 annually for cybersecurity scholarships. Jackson explained that these dedicated funds, as well as MSU Denver’s commitment to supporting a diverse student body, also will contribute to broader efforts to bring racial and gender diversity into STEM jobs across the state and nation.

Looking long-term, Jackson and fellow program architects hope to develop the MSU cybersecurity program into a Center for Academic Excellence, for which the program could be eligible after its third year, and develop a new Ethical Hacking Lab through potential public-private partnerships. The lab, which would likely be developed with the support of matching funds contributed by various MSU Denver departments and offices, would teach students the principles of white-hat hacking and prepare them to combat increasingly sophisticated cybercriminals.

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