Entire Group of WSU Cybersecurity Applicants Accepted to Elite Graduate Program
OGDEN, Utah – Success is great, but perfect is something else, and perfect is this year’s success rate for Weber State University applicants to Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) graduate program for information security and information management. Five students will enter the master’s program in the fall, and nine are participating in the summer internship.
CMU’s program is ranked No. 1 in the nation with an average acceptance rate of less than 20 percent.
Lindsey Oliva was happy when her husband was accepted last year and then was thrilled to receive her own acceptance letter this year.
“Receiving Joel's offer was a huge celebration, and we knew that it was a monumental turning point in our lives,” Lindsey said. “At the decision of his acceptance, we packed up our home to move across the country to Pittsburgh. We were hopeful and motivated to make the most of this opportunity. Receiving news of my acceptance was flooring.”
While Joel has attended school, Lindsey has gained professional experience as a cybersecurity intern at the headquarters of Allegheny Technologies Inc. (ATI), which is a global manufacturing company providing specialty materials and complex components in aerospace and defense, oil and gas, electrical energy, medical, automotive and other industrial sectors.
During the tumult of a pandemic, Lindsey has remained successfully employed, conducting security testing and developing phishing simulations and risk assessments for ATI.
As Weber State undergraduates, Lindsey and Joel had contemplated and attempted several majors, including accounting, but when they started studying cybersecurity, they both knew they had found the perfect fit.
“Among the required coursework, Management Information Systems (MIS) 2010 was the class that changed our lives,” Lindsey said. “We were told to take the class from Dr. Randy Boyle and soon found out why. While completing his classes at WSU, we decided that pursuing a career in cybersecurity was the right choice. We have not regretted our decision.”
Boyle, a MIS professor and cybersecurity expert, has collaborated with industry leaders to develop an innovative formula of curriculum and instruction to meet growing industry demand and prepare students for advanced degrees.
Under his leadership, the program, housed in the John B. Goddard School of Business & Economics, has incorporated advanced applied skills to every class. Students not only learn the applications and systems, but they also practice them hundreds of times in real-life scenarios. The practice prepares them to make educated decisions under pressure and communicate complex processes with nontechnical business counterparts effectively.
Joel said because of the broad education and hands-on experience he gained in the MIS program, he was well prepared to handle the rigors of his graduate education in the CMU Heinz College Master of Science in Information Security Policy & Management (MSISPM) program. He was also ready for the opportunity this summer to work as a cybersecurity and assurance threat intelligence intern at Kimberly-Clark.
“As the world continues to become connected online, there is more data and information being captured and stored,” Joel said. “This data and information must be handled properly to prevent the bad guys from stealing it — that is where Lindsey and I come in. Being able to study at CMU in a field like cybersecurity during this time of constant change and technological growth is truly an amazing opportunity, and I am proud to be able to share that with my wife.”
Over the past 15 years, the frequency and size of data breaches has increased exponentially, and the subsequent demand for cybersecurity professionals has gone up as well.
“The recent COVID-19 lockdown has forced companies to put nearly everything online, which has exacerbated the problem,” Boyle explained. “Businesses must provide remote access to everyone, and hackers know it. The students we are sending to CMU will go on to be leaders in the industry.”
Christopher Heywood is one of those leaders. He graduated from Weber State in 2016 and from CMU in 2017. He admits the great job he enjoys now as a cybersecurity specialist at Northrop Grumman was the fortunate outcome of avoiding the medical school entrance exam. He had wanted to become an emergency room doctor but changed his major when he decided he could secure a satisfying, high-paying job in information systems and technologies without having to attend graduate school. However, during their association, Boyle recognized Heywood’s aptitude and pushed him to take the graduate entrance exam (GRE) as the gateway to additional educational success.
“He helped me overcome that silly fear, and I ended up taking the GRE, cold turkey,” Heywood said. “I sent the score to the University of Utah and to Carnegie Mellon University and moved on with my life because there was no way any of those schools were going to accept me into their graduate programs. A couple of months later, I was accepted to both.”
Heywood said his education and skills allow him to make valuable contributions at work.
“I’ve had the opportunity to automate tasks that once took six-plus hours into tasks of 27 seconds,” Heywood said. “I’ve been the subject-matter expert for cybersecurity in multi-billion dollar proposals, I’ve worked with many directors, presented in front of hundreds of people and saved our company hundreds of thousands of dollars through some of the projects I’m working on.”
Heywood said his in-laws have even forgiven him for not going to medical school as he promised when he asked permission to marry their daughter. One thing that helped Heywood pursue his education was the scholarship that came with the CMU acceptance.
In 2018, Weber State was selected as a CMU National Education Partner. That means WSU students who are admitted receive scholarships equal to at least 30% of tuition per semester with additional scholarships based on the strength of their applications. In the past four years, 20 Weber State students have been admitted to the CMU graduate programs and 22 to CMU's Summer Security Intensive Information Technology Lab.
During the seven-week summer lab, students get a look at the rigors of the graduate program. They study with leading experts and work with real-world clients on applied projects. They also take three intensive cybersecurity courses.
CMU covers all fellowship costs including airfare, food, housing, tuition and a stipend. The most valuable perk, however, may come after the internship. Students who finish the program are admitted to a master’s program.
With his master’s degree, Heywood is not only working at Northrop Grumman, but he’s also teaching WSU’s Advanced MIS Cybersecurity Course as an adjunct. In addition to the coursework, he teaches his students the most important life lesson he learned while in the MIS program.
“Don’t let your fears hold you back from taking big opportunities,” Heywood said. “Don’t be afraid of change. Believe in yourself and your talents. It’s okay to be uncomfortable for a while because it will help you grow. Help other people with their goals. Stay positive, work hard, and have fun in your journey.”
For information about WSU’s management information systems program, the partnership with CMU or any of the 14 students continuing their education there, contact Randy Boyle at firstname.lastname@example.org. Registration for classes at Weber State University is now open.
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