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George Mason University

Volgenau School's Innovative Cyber Security Program Prepares Students for Crucial Careers

March 17, 2015   /   by Michele McDonald

George Mason University's new Bachelor of Science in Cyber Security Engineering is one more example of George Mason taking the lead, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said Monday at the program's official kickoff.

U.S. Senator Mark Warner, Virginia, shakes hands with Kenneth Ball, Dean, Volgenau School of Engineering, after he spoke at the Cyber Security/Engineering Program ribbon cutting for the Volgenau School of Engineering at the Long and Kimmy Nguyen Engineering building at the Fairfax Campus. Applauding (L to R) are Provost David Wu, President çngel Cabrera, and Mike Papay, CTO Northrop Grumman. Photo by Alexis Glenn.

"If you're in this program, you're very smart," Warner told students in the atrium of the Long and Kimmy Nguyen Engineering Building. "You will have careers for as long as you need them."

Industry and the federal government are facing mission-critical skills gaps and looking to universities to find the solution. From power grids to banks, cybersecurity needs to be integrated during the design process, not after. Currently, cybersecurity is being shoehorned into existing systems, Warner said.

Mason's proximity to Washington, D.C., makes it a natural center of the cybersecurity hub, said Warner, who had appointed Long Nguyen to Mason's Board of Visitors during his governorship.

Mason's "unique and innovative approach" initially drew freshman Erika Strano to the new program this spring. Now midway through classes, she calls the decision one of her best at Mason.

"I would recommend the program to anyone who wants to be constantly learning new things throughout their career and has a passion for protecting the public through security," Strano said.

The Volgenau School of Engineering worked with industry leaders, including Michael Papay, vice president and chief information security officer of Northrop Grumman Corp., to develop the program, said Dean Ken Ball. Karen Jackson, Virginia secretary of technology, also attended Monday's event.

Building secure systems has moved well beyond personal computers—the country's future is dependent on it, Papay said.

"George Mason gets it," he said.

"And it's by partnering with industry leaders that Mason helps prepare students for today's challenges as well as tomorrow's," said S. David Wu, Mason's provost and executive vice president. 

Papay is joined by a distinguished group of cybersecurity experts who serve as an advisory committee for the program. Membership of this advising body include: 

  • Dr. Stephen Cambone, former U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence
  • LisaMae Donnan, vice president of Strategic Cababilities and Technology at TASC
  • Deborah Dunie, former executive vice president and chief technology officer at CACI 
  • Dr. Hank Orejuela, president of Applied Systems Analytics

(L to R) Kenneth Ball, Dean, Volgenau School of Engineering, Provost David Wu, U.S. Senator Mark Warner, Virginia, President Ángel Cabrera, Mike Papay, CTO Northrop Grumman, and Peggy Brouse, Director, Cyber Security Engineering, at the Cyber Security/Engineering ribbon cutting for the Volgenau School of Engineering. Photo by Alexis Glenn.

Cybersecurity draws upon other aspects of Mason's expertise, including sociology and public policy, said Mason President Ángel Cabrera.

"It goes beyond technology," Cabrera said. "That's what makes this degree so special."

Sophomore Nadia Jehangir, who calls Texas home and is in the cybersecurity program, was drawn to Mason because of its diversity.

"I like the aspect of protecting people," she said. "I'm excited about the opportunity that this degree offers."

A version of this story by Michele McDonald appeared on Mason's News Desk on March 17, 2015.