05 Jan MATC’s new computer security program gears up for second semester
Madison, Wis. — Madison Area Technical College recently finished the first semester of its new degree program in computer security. The curriculum, which will soon be taught at technical colleges all over Wisconsin, will train students fill the IT community’s need for security specialists.
MATC, one of the largest of Wisconsin’s 16 technical colleges, cut its usual two-year degree development process down to five months. Network security, officials felt, is a rapidly growing concern. The National Science Foundation and the state of Wisconsin provided the college with grants and will continue to fund the program for several years.
“We knew we had to do it, since it’s such a growing concern, but this was really for us the spark that we needed to begin working on this program,” said Ken McCullough, head instructor for the Computer Information Systems Department at MATC.
The instructors at MATC worked with seven other Midwestern members of the Center for Systems Security and Information Assurance in order to develop a comprehensive curriculum. The college also worked with partners from the NSF, the Wisconsin Technical College System board, members of the Madison IT business community, and other schools.
“We were fortunate in that we were able to have a dedicated team that was well-coordinated, and we were able to spread the work amongst several faculty members here. In addition, we had done our homework. We had gotten our feet wet already because we were teaching some of this within the networking program,” McCullough said.
The curriculum focuses on familiarizing students with the computing systems and networks that they will be protecting in IT careers, then instructing them in appropriate defenses against network threats.
“You can’t protect something you don’t understand, so with the first semester, they’re learning the basics of the systems,” McCullough said.
In the first semester of the new two-year program, students took a core of four courses, covering principles of security, Windows servers, network functionality, and Perl, a programming language commonly used to write analysis software for logs of system activity.
MATC expects that students graduating with this degree will see excellent career growth, as many IT businesses in the area are seeking network security specialists, even those with less experience.
Most of the program’s 20 students made it through the first semester. MATC hired a new instructor to help teach the curriculum of the security degree and put existing faculty into the program as well.
“We’re really fortunate to have Nina [Milbauer] in the program as a good role model for women.” McCullough said. “She’s been able to reach out and get women and other underrepresented groups interested in the IT field.”
In accordance with the NSF grant requirements, MATC has been working with its seven partner schools within the Center for Systems Security and Information Assurance to become a training center for other colleges in the state that want to add similar degree programs.
Over the summer, the MATC offered courses to train instructors in how to teach the newly developed curriculum in their own institutions. For the first year, MATC taught a series of four classes, two focusing on networks and protection systems, two giving an overview of security, viruses and other threats. The college will be offering courses again this summer to train instructors to teach the advanced classes of the two-year degree.
And while that may sound like a lot, the college is also thinking about expanding its security training past its degree programs.
“In the fall, we’re going to be prepared to start another cohort of students through,” McCullough said. “We’re also moving forward in trying to develop something for the future, offering smaller scale security training for non IT-professionals.”