UA Little Rock to offer new bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity

Cyber Gym

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock is introducing a new four-year degree program in cybersecurity in the fall 2021 semester to help meet the rising demand for cybersecurity professionals. 

The Bachelor of Science in cybersecurity will prepare students for challenging and rewarding careers dedicated to protecting the privacy of individuals, the security of society’s infrastructure, and national security. Graduates will be prepared for positions in high-demand fields, including security architect, digital forensics analyst, security systems administrator, and security analyst.

“The Department of Computer Science has been actively involved in research and teaching in cybersecurity and information assurance for about 10 years,” said Dr. Albert Baker, interim chair of the Department of Computer Science. “The addition of a B.S. in cybersecurity is an exciting evolution of the department’s commitment to this aspect of national security. We are coordinating with the Arkansas Department of Education, representatives from Arkansas military contingents, and area industry leaders in the development of this program. Graduates of this program will be protecting all aspects of our digital lives.”

The new degree program will attract more government and industry jobs to the region, while helping to fill a growing need for more trained cybersecurity professionals. The Global Information Security Workforce study estimates that there will be 1.8 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs by 2022.

“Cybersecurity is a part of the daily lives of corporations, governments, and, now with many working from home, a part of our home lives,” said Dr. Lawrence Whitman, dean of the Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology. “Our outstanding faculty are able to provide cutting edge classes and equip the cybersecurity professionals of the future. I look forward to the first graduates of this program.”

With the recent rise of people working at home as well as the rise in unemployment across the country, cybersecurity is more important than ever to protect online security as well as a great option for adults looking to learn new skills in a growing field.

“The studies show an expected deficit of millions of jobs in cybersecurity around the world,” said Philip Huff, assistant professor of computer science and coordinator of the cybersecurity program. “The regional need for cybersecurity professionals is strong, and it’s not something that can be easily outsourced. The workforce needs far exceed the capacity of universities to prepare enough graduates to fill the need for cybersecurity jobs. Every university is and should be looking at how to prepare students to be competitive in the cybersecurity arena.”

Students will also have the opportunity to work in the UA Little Rock Cyber Gym, a state-of-the-art, cloud-based lab that provides a scalable, accessible, and almost no-cost cybersecurity curriculum for high school students in Arkansas.

Philip Huff, left, and Sandra Leiterman, right, head the UA Little Rock CyberGym. Photo by Ben Krain.
Philip Huff, left, and Sandra Leiterman, right, head the UA Little Rock Cyber Gym. Photo by Ben Krain.

“Philip Huff and the cyber team at UA Little Rock have been great to work with,” said Lee Watson, CEO and founder of the Forge Institute as well as a member of the state’s Computer Science and Cybersecurity Task Force. “The Cyber Gym is a next-generation academic training program that will help prepare Arkansas students for much needed, high-paying jobs in cybersecurity.”

UA Little Rock has partnered with the Forge Institute to create workforce development and research opportunities as well as to provide internship opportunities for college students.

“UA Little Rock and The American Cyber Alliance powered by Forge Institute are building some best practices that can be replicated across Arkansas, our region, and nation,” Watson said.

“Collaboration in operational research is opening doors for a variety of opportunities. These efforts in training and operations will help better position our companies and our State to defend against growing adversarial threats.”

The new degree also builds upon Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s emphasis on computer science in K-12 education. Students who had the opportunity to take computer science classes for years are now entering college and eager to continue their studies in a challenging and engaging curriculum.

“Undergraduate students being able to do research on computer science and computing technologies, such as with Phillip Huff at the Cyber Gym and their Cybersecurity Program, is really something that should promote institutions like UA Little Rock and their programs above those that are not doing research, that are not engaging in those activities that give their students a meaningful reason for the work they’re doing,” said Anthony Owen, state director of computer science at the Arkansas Department of Education. “It’s really the difference between the theoretical approach to computer science education that I received versus a hands-on and applicable approach to teaching computer science and its important concepts.”

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