Degree of the future | UDaily

With digital devices infiltrating nearly every corner of our lives, from the way we communicate to how we bank to how we cast our ballots, making sure those systems are safe and secure has become more important than ever.

In recent years, Americans have witnessed first-hand what happens when safeguards on these digital devices fail. Just last year, hackers side-lined the nation’s largest fuel pipeline, bringing a vital supply chain to its knees and highlighting the real threat of cyberattacks.

Cybersecurity, once a niche focus for tech-focused minds, is now a critical part of our everyday lives. Earning cybersecurity certificates or studying the field as a minor will no longer cut it in today’s digital age.

To help fill that gap, the University of Delaware’s College of Engineering is among the leading academic institutions in the nation to offer a unique cybersecurity engineering degree starting in Fall 2022. The undergraduate degree will help train a much needed workforce that is in high demand now, and is expected to grow in the coming years.

“We are extremely excited to offer the new cybersecurity engineering degree, with a program that is designed to meet a major market and societal need, particularly in Delaware and the region in the financial and defense sectors,” said Jamie Phillips, professor and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering where the new program will be housed. 

A key strength of the program, Phillips said, is the combination of rigorous cybersecurity fundamentals along with the design and problem-solving skills that UD engineers are known for, thanks to the department’s design-infused curriculum. 

“As a result, our graduates will not only have the important modern-day cyber skills, but also the expertise and mindset to analyze, design and build secure devices and systems,” he said.

In October 2021, the White House even emphasized the need for a “whole-of-nation effort to confront cyber threats.”

“Cyber threats can affect every American, every business regardless of size, and every community,” President Joe Biden, a UD alum, said in a statement issued by the White House. “The Federal government needs the partnership of every American and every American company in these efforts. We must lock our digital doors — by encrypting our data and using multi-factor authentication, for example — and we must build technology securely by design, enabling consumers to understand the risks in the technologies they buy. Because people — from those who build technology to those to deploy technology — are at the heart of our success.”

UD’s College of Engineering has anticipated this need for years and now is expanding its offerings with this specialized degree offering.

“We’re a leader in the game,” said Kenneth Barner, Charles Black Evans Professor of Electrical Engineering who, along with Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Assistant Professor Nektarios Tsoutsos, was a driving force behind the new degree program. While at least two dozen other institutions, such as Purdue University, the University of Texas at Austin and the U.S. Naval Academy, offer cybersecurity degrees, UD will be among the earliest in the nation to offer a cybersecurity engineering program.

“We’ve been doing this kind of work for a very long time, and we already have a huge portfolio of programs that add to our expertise in this area,” said Tsoutsos. “The cybersecurity threats are real and we need to defend. Before you could do that and get away with an electrical engineering degree and a minor in cybersecurity. Now that doesn’t work anymore, and we were among the first to notice that.”

Just as computer engineering was a new field in itself only a few decades ago, the new cybersecurity engineering degree will provide a strong foundation that bridges math and science with a design-infused curriculum. Within the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering as well as the Department of Computer and Information Sciences, students already can pursue a minor in cybersecurity, a master’s in cybersecurity or pursue professional certifications. More competitive students can then use their skills to participate year-round in hackathons and cyber games, even at a national level, in large part thanks to the resources available at the on-campus Innovation Suite (iSuite).

“To have a dedicated degree makes the graduates much more well-prepared to hit the ground running with an employer or pursue graduate studies,” Barner said. “This is not just a fad. These are the kind of skills that employers want and need.”

The engineering focus of this unique program means students will not just tackle theoretical coding challenges. They’ll be gaining hands-on skills that are desperately needed in today’s industry.

“Cybersecurity is one of the hottest areas in science, technology, engineering and math,” said Tsoutsos. “It’s not going to die out, and there is a major shortage of skilled labor in this area.”

Tsoutsos said that the cybersecurity field is growing by 7% annually, offering relatively stable job security for anyone willing to tackle the problems of the digital age. The United States is a leader in the field, and future students will have an opportunity to be on the forefront of future innovations in cybersecurity.

“I believe that the new cybersecurity engineering program will be wildly successful in attracting a diverse student population, and will meet an ever growing demand for talented professionals in Delaware, the region and beyond,” said Phillips.

To learn more or to enroll in this new program, go to ece.udel.edu/academics/undergraduate/cybersecurity-engineering-major.