Cyber programs to expand in fall

Bernard Garwig, Sports editor

On March 21, a meeting was held for all Information Technology (IT) majors and minors. The meeting was to discuss upcoming changes: the transformation of the IT program, currently part of the Mathematics department, into the Computing and Information Sciences (CIS) department.

The purpose of the meeting was to inform students of the changes that will come with the CIS department. The IT major/minor will no longer exist; however, two new graduate and undergraduate degrees will replace it.

“Our plan is to make the transition as smooth as possible,” said Afzal Upal, chair of the Computing and Information Sciences department. “If everything works as we are planning, the IT folks should see minimal or no changes at all. For those IT majors who wish to shift into either the Bachelor of Science in Data Science or Cyber Security, we’ll make it as smooth as possible. For those who want to stay, they will be able to complete their degrees as close as when they came in as possible.”

Starting in Fall 2018, Mercyhurst will offer Master of Science degrees in Cyber Security and in Cyber Risk Management. Currently, a proposal is going through the university committee structure program to add the undergraduate programs for Bachelor of Science degrees in Data Science and Cyber Security, both of which will be introduced in Fall 2019.

As of now, students seem happy about the changes.

“The sense that we got is that there is no burning desire to have those classes,” said Upal. “They would much rather take classes in Data Science or Cyber Security. They feel that those fit better with where they want to go.”

The CIS department, a part of the Tom Ridge School of Intelligence Studies and Applied Sciences, will host these new offerings in addition to the existing master’s degree in Data Science.

“We’ve hired two new positions in cyber security for the fall,” said Upal. “We’ve also had a couple of IT faculty join us for the new CIS department.”

Corresponding with the launch of the new programs, the new Cyber Lab on the bottom floor of the Hammermill Library will open to host the new offerings.

“Starting this fall, we will be holding the majority of our classes in there,” said Upal. “We may still have a need to use the computer lab in Old Main, but primarily we’ll be utilizing the space here as both classrooms and laboratories for research.”

A generous donation from Betsy Hirt Vorsheck, Erie Insurance board member and Mercyhurst alumna, ’77, has made the new Cyber course offerings possible.

Vorsheck is the daughter of F.W. Hirt, former chief executive and board chairman of Erie Insurance and Audrey Sitter Hirt, ’49, namesake of the Audrey Hirt Academic Center.

Vorsheck “gifted the university $1.25 million over five years, and that’s what allowed us to pay these faculty members for the five years,” said Upal. “After five years, we’ll be bringing enough revenue in to pay for them ourselves.”

It’s no coincidence that Erie Insurance is taking an interest in cultivating Cyber Security professionals: The Fortune 500 company hopes to soon be receiving Mercyhurst graduates from the program to address big changes on the horizon in the insurance world.

“The reason why they felt the need to do this is because they felt that they are not attracting the talent pool in order to sustain their business. In particular, they felt that was the case in Cyber Risk Management,” said Upal. “They see more and more of the risk management stuff going into the cyber area. They need people who are going to understand cyber risk, who can assign a value to that risk. Erie Insurance wants to be engaged with those students.”

Cyber Security majors will have the opportunity to visit Erie Insurance. Upal also outlined that the Erie Innovation District initiative is currently working to attract tech start-ups in the finance and insurance sectors. Colloquially known as Fintech and Insuretech, these businesses and ideas are driving a digital revolution within banking and insurance. This will give cyber students plenty of opportunities within the Erie region.

Although many of the degree programs, initiatives, faculty and facilities are rapidly expanding the scope of Mercyhurst’s offerings, Upal indicated that this is the culmination of many working parts in motion over the past five years.

“If you look at when the (Ridge) college started, it was Intelligence Studies and Information Sciences,” said Upal. “Computer and Information Sciences has always been a part of that vision.”