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AU News

Anderson University Center for Cybersecurity Prepares Graduates to Face Ever-changing Digital Landscape

Cyber Lab
While Cybersecurity majors at Anderson University take a deep dive into technology, they’re also developing a mindset that helps them tackle the challenges that come with a constantly expanding digital infrastructure.

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After graduating with his cybersecurity degree, Zach Seiter went straight to work as a cybersecurity analyst at ReWa, a wastewater plant that processes anywhere from 40 million to 100 million gallons of water a day at several plants across Greenville County. His job ranges from writing policies that govern how employees are trained on cybersecurity to ensuring the security of the network, as Seiter says, “from the CEO all the way down to the guy who’s cleaning the pipes.” 

While troubleshooting is an important tool in the cybersecurity skill set, Seiter appreciates how his training from the Anderson University Center for Cybersecurity goes beyond just teaching skills. 

“Troubleshooting is not a software tool, it’s not a laptop, it’s not a specific piece of technology—it’s a mindset,” Seiter said. “You can learn all the technology and you can learn how hackers work, but if you don’t have that kind of analytical mindset they teach you at Anderson, you’re not going to be as good of a hacker or defender or any of that stuff as you would be if you had it.”

Seiter also appreciates the professional development component of the Anderson University Cybersecurity program that helped him effectively market his skills via LinkedIn and by other means.

Recent graduate Franklin George can hardly remember a time when he wasn’t interested in computer technology. 

“I had been coding since I was nine. I built my first computer at a very young age. I was very involved with different operating systems like Linux when I was in high school, so that kind of led me into cybersecurity,” said George, adding that he was accepted by a couple of major universities in the Southeast but chose Anderson University. 

What attracted George to Anderson University was a welcoming campus and helpful professors like Assistant Professor of Cybersecurity Dr. Brandon Grech. 

“Brandon cares about his students and that’s not super common all the time. He really cares about student success, really pushes them and he specifically targets areas of learning,” George said. “That’s really what attracted me—the professors and the school willing to invest in the program.”

Right after his graduation, Colonial Pipeline hired George as a cybersecurity engineer. It wasn’t long before he was given an opportunity to take a lead on implementing a crucial Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) platform for his employer. 

“I believe we currently lead the pipeline industry in cybersecurity,” George said.

Seiter and George both feel that their cybersecurity training from Anderson University is helping them in their roles of securing systems that are a part of our country’s infrastructure. 

The center’s faculty members have extensive combined cybersecurity experience in the corporate and military world and are Certified Information Systems Security Professionals (CISSP). Center Director Dr. Kenneth Knapp, who has a background in higher education and the military, is joined by Dr. Brandon Grech, a professor who came to Anderson University with extensive cybersecurity education experience. More recently Karry Elson joined the cybersecurity faculty from an extensive corporate tech background.

“The Cybersecurity program at Anderson gives you a really wide view of cyber security in general, from programming to more managerial roles like writing policies,” Seiter said. “Like math, it builds on itself. You start out pretty basic and it culminates into that final ethical hacking class, which is very important for a lot of the stuff I do.”

“The landscape is constantly changing,” said George, appreciative of how professors like Grech teach students a mindset that helps them adapt to different technologies. “A lot of cybersecurity education programs do not do that. But the fact that AU is growing in their Cybersecurity department… I think that is benefiting the return on investment for the program for all of the program’s graduates.”

Cybersecurity majors are immersed in a hands-on environment where they can collaborate with professors and each other. The Cyber Range is a cybersecurity lab that provides students with an environment where they learn from simulated real world attacks. 

Cybersecurity students from Anderson University have made impressive showings in national cybersecurity competitions on team and individual levels. The Capture the Flag (CTF) competitions are much more than just fun and games; they’re an important part of the overall training of cybersecurity professionals.

“The CTFs were definitely a very cool opportunity and employers after you graduate do value that experience,” George said. George and Seiter, who were among the first of Anderson’s cybersecurity majors, put Anderson’s cybersecurity program on the map with their CTF performances.

“I think our first time we placed in the top 5000, but just because of the experience of that first one, that next semester where we did that same competition we actually placed in the top 500,” Seiter said.

More recently, In the National Cyber League (NCL) Fall 2023 Power Rankings, Anderson University moved up to first place in the Southeast and fifth place in the nation (up from ninth place nationally in the Spring). AU is also the highest-ranked Christian institution in the nation for the second semester in a row. A total of 521 colleges and universities across the country competed in the NCL Fall 2023 Games. 

Current students Eric Watkins and Seth Taylor were instrumental in making that happen. According to Grech, if not for Watkins and Taylor, Anderson University wouldn’t have attained such impressive rankings. Dr. David Zeichick, NCL commissioner, praised the students and faculty of the Anderson University Center for Cybersecurity for their performance in the National Cyber League (NCL) Fall 2023 Competition Season. Also, Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC) recently praised the Anderson University Center for Cybersecurity.

Computers and coding have fascinated Watkins for most of his life. An expensive lesson learned when he was younger set the trajectory for him towards a career in cybersecurity.

“When I was 15 years old, I was messing around with video games and trying to modify the base code for them… and unknowingly I downloaded a virus and cost my family $2,000. After that point, I became more invested in specifically cybersecurity because I realized the true risk of possibly downloading a virus or a rogue actor hacking a database,” Watkins said. “After that point, it became pretty clear to me what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.” 

Watkins knew he wanted to get into computer science, cybersecurity or other tech related industries and looked into several potential degree programs. As he was looking around, he found Anderson University.

“The thing that really drew me to Anderson University was the fact that a lot of their Cybersecurity program was very hands-on and that we’d actually be doing exercises and assignments that simulate real life work assignments. We would be working with professionals from the industry. Every one of the professors has been a well-regarded professional at some point at some time in their career,” Watkins said. “The primary field of cyber that I want to get into is probably penetration testing, which is ethical hacking. It’s where you’re hired or contracted by a company to try to break as much as you can on their systems and then help fix this and improve their security from there on. If not that, then I will probably get into digital forensics and try to recover data involved in criminal investigations.”

When Taylor was looking into cybersecurity programs, he was impressed at how Anderson University visibly promoted the Center for Cybersecurity program. He was excited to find such a program in his home state.

Observing his brother who worked in electrical engineering inspired Taylor to pursue a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) career. 

“I wanted to do robotics and cool stuff like that. It really pushed me to do the STEM related majors in high school,” Taylor said. “I would do a bunch of engineering classes and such. I was also really interested in computers. One of my fondest memories as a child was that we had this old Windows XP, Windows 7 desktop, and I would play around with it.”

Taylor continued, “Cybersecurity wasn’t that big in my mind in high school. When I got into my freshman year I had a big revelation. This is probably something that I actually want to do because it’s an emerging field. I love computers… but also I like the idea of being able to use this tool to help protect people as well, because that’s one of the big things I want to do is change the world. Protecting people who don’t know how to protect themselves is a pretty big deal.”

“There are attacks happening every second of the day. It’s needed, it provides job security because it’s not going away any time soon. Obviously it pays well. There’s lots of benefits for specifically cybersecurity for me,” George said.

The Anderson University Center for Cybersecurity trains students to meet the unique demands of today’s cybersecurity industry. Degree tracks focus on cybersecurity with specializations in analytics, criminal justice, or mathematics. Details can be found online.

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