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The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

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Katarina Rothhorn
Katarina Rothhorn

The first message I ever sent from my Northern Michigan University sanctioned email was to the editor-in-chief of the North Wind asking if there was any way I could join the staff. Classes hadn't even...

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

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Training specialists: NMU joins state cybersecurity initiative

Opportunities for NMU’s small cybersecurity education program are increasing.
NMU recently joined the Regional Cyber Education Collaboration, created by Gov. Rick Snyder to address Michigan’s shortage of skilled cybersecurity professionals in our increasingly technological economy. The joint effort by higher education schools and the private sector was announced by Snyder Oct. 17 at the 2016 International Cyber Summit in Detroit.

re-cybersecurityNorthern will collaborate with Central Michigan and Wayne State universities as well as with Merit Network, Inc., a private, nonprofit information technology (IT) company that provides computer networking services throughout Michigan, allowing students to access the cybersecurity training resources of Merit as well as receive training between schools.

“We’ve worked hard to come up with a good curriculum— good hands-on experiences for students,” said Jim Marquardson, assistant professor of information systems. “This is collaborating with different institutions who have different skill sets, so we can leverage each other’s strengths. That’s the goal.”

Northern already offers all the classes and coursework students in the cyber defense and information assurance major need to graduate, along with a number of industry certifications that students can earn. But this collaboration is planned to provide students the ability to take online classes that might be more specialized to particular cyber skills at other universities.

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NMU’s cybersecurity program is small, with only two full-time faculty. The major is two years old and the first class, which was only two students that transferred many of their credits from computer science, graduated last May.

“It’s a major that still not a lot of people know about,” Marquardson said.

“It’s a hot field right now,” he said on the rising value of cybersecurity specialists in the industry. “There’s probably not a single hotter field that you can possibly be in than cybersecurity.”

Typically at other universities, the cyber defense major program is part of the computer science department, but at Northern it is part of the college of business, said David Rayome, dean of the college of business. The business courses NMU cyber defense majors take teach them what financial data is most important to protect.

“[Cyber defense] is the No. 1 problem for business today,” Rayome explained. “It’s like a cat and mouse game. Cybersecurity specialists are out there trying to protect data, like for a bank, and there are some people out there trying to beat it. As soon as you build new defenses, there’s hackers all over the country saying, ‘Let’s see how we can beat this one.’ It costs businesses billions of dollars a year.”

Rayome emphasized the value of the Regional Cyber Education Collaboration for students.

“It will give [students] a better education,” Rayome said. “A collaboration like this will also create better opportunities for them when they graduate because employers all around the state and region will be familiar with it. When students have on their resumes that they have this experience, it will give them an edge over other students.”

As this collaboration between Northern and other universities becomes further developed, officials are hoping that students will be able to enroll in online IT courses offered by other campuses.

“Classes we have that they don’t offer would be made available to their students and vice versa,” Rayome said. “Central and Wayne State’s cyber programs are further along than ours are, so they may have more faculty and variety of classes than we do.”

The details of NMU’s agreements with Merit Network, Inc. in the collaboration are still under discussion. Northern’s program especially hopes to tap into the education resources of Merit’s Michigan Cyber Range networking and computer infrastructure, which delivers training and testing support. The cyber range is marketed as a system for educational exercises that enable students to detect and stop cyber attacks in a number of simulated real-world settings.

The system’s “Alphaville” is a virtual village, complete with a city hall, power station, library and school server simulations, all operating at different levels of cybersecurity.

To better facilitate the technology, either a new room or NMU’s cybersecurity lab in the LRC will have to be equipped with web cameras to become a video classroom—an easy task, Marquardson said. But the finalized plans with Merit will be decided based on what fits with NMU’s budget for the cyber defense major, he said.

“We’re looking out for our students,” Marquardson explained. “We want to make sure we’re not adding any additional financial burden onto them, still making sure they get the quality education they deserve. “Meanwhile, we’re working hard to build hands-on activities and give students practical experience here on campus today. So no matter what solution [between NMU and Merit], our students are going to get the best education they can,” he added.

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