Information Security Education: Expanding Career Opportunities Through Advanced Education at Regis University

With the Obama administration's focus on cybersecurity, this is a good time to start or move into an information security career. And Regis University in Colorado is one institution offering state-of-the-art education for undergraduates and graduates alike.

In an exclusive interview, Daniel Likarish, faculty of the Regis University School of Computer & Info Sciences, discusses:

The information security programs at Regis University;
The unique types of students enrolled in these programs;
Job placement and opportunities in business and government.

Regis University, with nearly 16,000 students, comprises Regis College, College for Professional Studies and Rueckert-Hartman College for Health Professions. The University is recognized by U. S. News & World Report as a Top School in the West and is one of 28 Catholic Jesuit colleges and universities throughout the United States. Regis University is located at 3333 Lowell Blvd. at 50th Street in north Denver. In addition to its north Denver Lowell campus, the University has campus locations in Aurora, Colorado Springs, Interlocken at Broomfield, Denver Tech Center, Fort Collins, Longmont and two in Las Vegas, Nevada.

TOM FIELD: Hi. This is Tom Field, Editorial Director with Information Security Media Group. We're talking today about information security education, and we're talking with Daniel Likarish, a member of the faculty with Regis University School of Computer and Information Sciences. Daniel, thanks so much for joining me today.

DANIEL LIKARISH: Well, thanks, Tom. Thanks for inviting me.

FIELD: Just to give our audience some context here, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and the information security program at Regis.

LIKARISH: I'm happy to. I'm an assistant professor at Regis University. Regis University is one of the 28 Jesuit schools in the U.S. I'm the Director for the Center on Information Assurance Studies, as well as the Chair for the IT program. In the Information Assurance Program at Regis, we have both undergrad and grad programs. We're a typical undergrad program, in that we focus on tools, on concrete, objective learning on the undergrad side.

Then, on the grad side, we use constructive teaching methods. But, frankly, for information assurance, what appears to me is happening is we have a real strong governance compliance, policy track, and then our students have broken themselves off into more of a technical track. So, our grad students are more interested in forensics, firewall manipulation, defensive methods. So, it's a good specialization within the field of information assurance.

FIELD: Well, tell us about your students. Who are the primary students? And what types of unique challenges do they pose to the program?

LIKARISH: We're an adult accelerated program, so we attract students from the Colorado area, the range of the mountain west, as well as we have a large population that are online -- 85% of our students are online. As an adult program, we have an older adult group. Our median age is somewhere around 34 or 35. They are working professionals. They have quite a bit of experience, but they need either their bachelors or masters degree to be able to move ahead in their jobs. So, they tend to be from government, business, we get a few educators.

We also are starting to see an increase in our career-changer population. So, we have always had an experienced group of students. So, that becomes a challenge for us, to be able to educate, as an undergrad or grad, educate in the classroom that is not quite balanced. We have people that know their stuff, and then we have people who are just trying to get into the industry and trying to learn. So, what we do is we have a very active classroom, either online or classroom-based. And in that classroom, it means that our instructors, who are working professionals, the challenge for them is to get this group of adults to learn from one another. We have some great discussion-oriented classes. We do quite a bit of writing. We do some research into IA problems.

FIELD: Now, you talked about the online offerings. I'd like to hear more about those, and who distinctly takes advantage of those offerings, because I would imagine that is taking the university in a whole different direction in the recent decade.

LIKARISH: Yes. Regis is very well-experienced with the online classes. We have a very good working relationship with our distance ed group. We've been at this since the late '90s, so we have done some pretty interesting approaches to online education. I think for the IA classes and the security classes, what we try to do is offer a variety of modalities to our students, so that if they have different learning styles, so you will do a virtual lab.

I also manage the academic research network that is supported and maintained by our second year grad students. Well, that network is responsible to deliver virtualized forensics labs, for example, to our computer forensics class, or network forensics class. We have a risk management lab. We have some very good undergraduates that the simulation labs, using GMS3, so we are a technology program, and a very fine liberal arts school. We represent this mix between educating the person, but also having them leave here with substantial technology.

FIELD: Now, let's talk about some of the affiliations you have. You are closely aligned with government, I know. What types of government and business affiliations do you have, and how do they benefit your programs?

LIKARISH: Well, our principal designation is that we are a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance and Education. That's a formal title from the NSA. So, that means the DoD has looked at our program in Information Assurance, and we have successfully mapped to the CNS standards, which are DOD government standards for both security administrators and systems administrators.

What that means is we have gone through six years now of evaluation by the NSA, followed by, in June of 2009, our most recent mapping to those standards. We attend quite a few security conferences locally and nationally. We have good alliances with not just security firms in Colorado, but many of the top 500 companies in Colorado look at us for graduates that can either work on the business side, or on the admin side, in those sorts of positions.

FIELD: Well, that's a good point. Where are you placing students when they graduate your programs?

LIKARISH: Most of our students are returning to their posts. So, they are going back to their companies, better educated, with either their bachelors or masters degrees. As you know, IT has been hit by, well, it's been down for many years, but we've also got the recent problem with the recession. What we are seeing is increased hiring in these spring months of this year. And, the banks, the financial institutions, in Colorado and throughout the nation, they are hiring. The other placement we are doing is with the federal government, especially the DoD. We have quite a few students who are going into security, junior level security admin jobs.

One of the other benefits of our program is because we are a CAE, we also have scholarship funds available for security personnel, either that are currently working with the government, or a DoD contractor, as well as we have scholarship and stipend, and it's called the IASP program, Information Assurance Scholarship Program. And that is a scholarship for recruitment, so that means those students are going right into NSA, or DoD types of security jobs. So, we have a mix between these students that are already employed, and students that are making career changes.

FIELD: Now, you've got sort of a unique student body base there. What do you require of students who are entering your programs?

LIKARISH: Prove you can write and communicate. We don't require a GRE. We have a background check, like all colleges do, it's a very simple application. So, it's a very lean process to apply for our program. And, of course, as you are going into grad school, you would have to require a bachelor's degree from an accredited university. The other thing we see is we see quite a few transfer students that find out about our program because of our NSA affiliation, or they come through one of the government programs. We can transfer up to 60 hours of existing credit into our graduate program, and then, of course, we have quite a few transcriptional alliances with community colleges. So, we have a community college feed, and we also have people that find us on the web or through our marketing efforts.

FIELD: Now, one of the things that schools always need, I know, is help from businesses and from governments to, 1) let you know what needs they have to have filled, but, 2) to give you the resources you need, as well, to improve your own offerings. What do you need in your programs, from business, and government, to improve what you are doing now?

LIKARISH: Well, because I run the research lab, equipment is always good to have. And we've got reasonable support from the local businesses in Colorado of Proxy Data Systems. We've got seven terabytes in Colorado of Proxy Data Systems. We just received donations of equipment. So, those sorts of things are good, and they help the program to be persistent. But what we really need is leadership from the business and government, to tell us what they need and tell us what their worker profile, you know, what are they requiring from their workers.

So, we form industry groups, we form focus groups, to be able to have business and government lead our new offerings. That's how we got into forensics a few years ago. The Obama administration just announced a cyber defense initiative and we're fairly well-positioned to be able to provide students for that effort. Hopefully, there will be some federal funding that follows that, to be able to encourage, to be able to advance our already existing research efforts, as well as education.

FIELD: Definitely exciting times to be in information security.

LIKARISH: The students are the most exciting ... it's all about the students here. It's exciting to see our undergrad and grad students get it. You know, they know that the threat model that is out there. They are the first line responders that are responsible for protecting the assets, and that's what information assurance is about. I've got to be able to exchange information with a business partner and then trust that when that business partner returns information to me, with a value added attached to it, we both benefit from it. If that trust is broken, then we've got a problem with the information assurance, and that's not a good thing.

FIELD: Very good. Daniel, I appreciate your time and your insight today.

LIKARISH: Oh, thanks, Tom. It was good talking to you.

FIELD: We've been talking with Daniel Likarish of Regis University. With Information Security Media Group, I'm Tom Field. Thank you very much.

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