Southern Revamps Graduate Computer Science Program

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The Computer Science Department has restructured its Master of Science degree program, replacing its previous tracks with those having more relevance in today’s tech landscape: network and information security (cybersecurity) and software development.

computer science“Previously, the M.S. program was designed primarily for students who had earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science,” said Lisa Lancor, graduate coordinator for the department. “But we had been getting increased interest from individuals who had bachelor’s degrees in other disciplines and wanted to move into the computer field. We have students who majored in music, political science and other disciplines not closely related to computer science. So, we revamped the program to make it more flexible.”

Among the changes enacted is the establishment of a single prerequisite course, instead of three such courses. The new prerequisite is a four-credit course on computer programming and data structures. Students then take 12 core credits, as well as 18 credits in either of the two tracks. Students are then required to pass a capstone, typically a six-credit thesis.

One of the new courses offered in the cybersecurity track is “Ethical Hacking and Penetration Testing,” where students learn to test whether networks are secure and how to enhance that security.

“There is a huge need for individuals who have an expertise in this area,” Lancor said. “The number of companies and organizations whose websites are hacked is growing all the time. These companies want to hire individuals who can detect and fix these security issues, but there really is a shortage of such people.”

Lancor said companies actually hire individuals to try to break into their network system (without causing any damage). The idea is that if they can hack into it, the system needs to be upgraded and fixed. “As cyber attacks become more sophisticated, demand will increase for workers with security skills,” she said.

Lancor pointed to U.S. Department of Labor projections that indicate employment of network and computer systems administrators (which includes security specialists) is expected to increase by 23 percent from 2008 to 2018. Similarly, the department projects that the number of computer software engineers and computer programmers will increase by 21 percent in that same decade.