New concentration will help provide highly trained and sought-after graduates for the largest growing job sector in America – computer networking and programming

 

BISMARCK, ND — Some would compare them to mad scientists. They enter the laboratory at dusk and leave under the cover of darkness. Surprisingly, they have no textbooks, no calculators and no manuals of any sort. They come to their computer lab armed with only the clothing on their back, a geeky knowledge of the techie language, or code, that not many people can comprehend, and — a growing passion to stop cybercrime in its tracks.

They’re seniors Andrew Dubiel, Colorado Springs, CO; Lance Pfliger, Hazen, ND; and Bryan Zastoupil, Bismarck, ND; — three computer wiz kids at the University of Mary who continually hunger for knowledge in security. In 2013, during the days of the Target credit card breach and the largest retail hack in U.S. history, these three took it upon one another to teach themselves programming and cyber security before the university even had an instructor for a class.

Andrew Dubiel shows the media the device his computer science team is creating to help protect computers from hackers

Andrew Dubiel shows the media the device his computer science team is creating to help protect computers from hackers

“The Sony hack really opened our eyes to the seriousness of cyber security,” commented Dubiel. “When Target was hacked it really motivated us to think and implement security.”

Their patience and persistence began to pay off a short time later as Jennifer Fennewald, a former manager for IBM’s security team with over 14 years experience, arrived at Mary to teach programming.

“These students are very intelligent and are always looking at new ways to be creative,” said Fennewald. “When there was no instructor to teach them and they were flying solo, so to speak, they persevered and continued on to write big programs.”

Today that drive, that desire, that propensity for curiosity and creativity has rewarded the three students twofold. Unintentionally, these three have become pioneers of the new program which the University of Mary announces today: now, all students who have the same desires as Dubiel, Pfliger and Zastoupil, will be able to receive a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science with a cyber security concentration at the Gary Tharaldson School of Business starting fall (August) 2016. Through this new program students will have the education and training to develop software applications and operating systems that run computers and devices.    

It’s no secret that Information Technology (IT) is the number one job market in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the job outlook for areas within computer science will continue to grow between 15% and 25% through the year 2022 in different areas of employment. The Information Technology Council in the state of North Dakota has seen a 20% increase in information technology jobs throughout the last decade and predicts a 45% increase over the next decade.

More specifically, in the latest 2013 Job Market Intelligence report published by Burning Glass Technologies, an online job market analytics firm that identifies gaps and needs in the workforce, there were 209,749 national postings for cyber-security jobs with an average salary of $93,028.

Monsignor James Shea

Monsignor James Shea, President of the University of Mary

“I can’t put too fine a point on it, but this job sector is booming because entities at all levels —government, financial institutions, health care providers, energy, retail and any organization with sensitive data — whether they realize it or not, are under attack by hackers,” stated University of Mary President Monsignor James Shea. “Whether in the field of cyber security or database administration, employers locally and globally are scrambling to create special departments to protect their sensitive data and infrastructure. This new program at Mary will be a huge windfall for companies in North Dakota and across America.”

One such proactive company in North Dakota is KLJ, a nationally renowned and reputable engineering firm based in Bismarck. KLJ identified early on the need for information security services and has since launched CyberNet Security Solutions. One of their cyber security team members is Tim Swartz, who gets paid to find flaws in systems via penetration testing for KLJ and customers. Swartz generously and graciously began volunteering his free time at Mary two years ago after Fennewald and the three students witnessed first-hand his expertise. They were so impressed that they asked him to come back once a week for the 457-level class called Advanced Programming Topics.

When you talk to people who know Swartz, without hesitation they use words like prodigy, genius and brilliant. Those same people are quick to add that Swartz would never use those words to describe himself, noting his humble and soft-spoken demeanor.

“While a large portion of the security knowledge I have is directed towards breaking into systems, the students have shown a greater desire to gain knowledge about creating protection tools,” commented Swartz.

Protection software is where the three students have taken their programming skills to an advanced level that is off the charts thanks to Fennewald’s teaching and Swartz’s mentoring. The three students are designing a program now that remains nameless, probably because it is not yet finished, but Dubiel refers to as the USB Locker. In laymen’s terms, it requires a user to have an USB drive inserted into the computer for a login. When the drive is removed it locks the computer. Dubiel credits Fennewald and Swartz for continually trying to poke holes into their idea to help make it better and more refined — and it’s working. The students are now taking their idea one step further by creating a program that doesn’t require a USB drive, but simply allows a user to walk away from the computer or device to break the connection thus locking the computer.

“Little ideas can solve big problems,” stated Swartz.

Computer science students team up to create various software for community projects. Some applications are designed for cyber security and programs that help students with math and provide out of town students an app for ride sharing.

Computer science students team up to create various software for community projects. Some applications are designed for cyber security and programs that help students with math and provide out of town students an app for ride sharing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I think this is pretty unique for any college or university of any size,” said Fennewald. “I am certainly very proud of them for not only putting in hours of class time but countless extra time on their own to bring this and other ideas to fruition in real-life applications. One potential area that sets the University of Mary apart from other colleges is the large program projects created as community service projects and the ability to use these projects to consider coding challenges that help prevent cyber security leaks.”

A lot of those ideas come to Dubiel while he is sleeping, or as he puts it, losing sleep.

“I would lie down for hours trying to sleep while my mind plays a simple, but strategic game of cat and mouse,” he said. “I would think like a hacker, and visualize all the points that I could get in and steal information, just to switch over to the good guy and say, ‘Oh, not so fast. A little program I can write can stop you in your tracks.’ I would then just get up at three in the morning, open my laptop and begin creating the layer of defense I just thought up. And as far as sleep goes? I’ll just postpone it to tomorrow night. In today’s world it is either hack or be hacked.”

Whether they are mad scientists or not is debatable. But, one thing is undeniable; they are mad — mad about the current state of cyber vulnerability in today’s personal environment and working environment and want to do something about it. Their intent now is not only uphold the Christian, Catholic and Benedictine values that make up the foundation of the University of Mary, but echo the words of Dr. John Warford, dean of the Gary Tharaldson School of Business, to be a “force for good.”

For more information about the new cyber security program go to www.umary.edu/computerscience.