Central Michigan University student Josh Marzic wants you to know he is not a hacker. At least, not anymore.
In high school, he would look for ways to get around blocks in his school's computer system. It wasn't exactly hacking, he said, but he enjoyed looking for weaknesses he and his friends could exploit.
Now, as president of the CMU Cyber Security Club, a registered student organization, the junior computer science major from Delton, Michigan, is helping other students learn how hackers can break into systems and how to keep them out.
"The demand had been growing steadily for a while but has skyrocketed in the last two to three years." – Matthew Pitzer, Department of Defense Office of Inspector General
Ready for online threats
CMU recently added a cybersecurity option to the undergraduate degree in business information systems and will add a similar track to the graduate program next fall. Students also can pursue an undergraduate certificate or graduate certificate in cybersecurity online.
Susan Helser, a member of the business information systems faculty and the faculty advisor for the Cyber Security Club, said thousands of jobs go unfilled each year, and employers are eager to recruit students with the right skill sets. She is working with colleagues in the College of Business Administration and the College of Science and Engineering on an interdisciplinary curriculum to provide more students access to the program.
"The field of cybersecurity is growing so fast, and the jobs pay very well," Helser said. "Our goal is to help students build technical skills and explore their career options."
At each club meeting, students engage in hands-on activities, such as testing vulnerabilities on virtual systems or using online programs to test their hacking skills. Every meeting builds on their knowledge and understanding of computers and network security, Marzic said.
"The technical side is always changing, and you are constantly having to learn new skills and programs," he said.
Club members also attend professional networking events and host an annual cybersecurity awareness day event at CMU.
Preparing for an in-demand career
"The demand had been growing steadily for a while but has skyrocketed in the last two to three years," said Matthew Pitzer, a project manager in the Cyberspace Operations Directorate of the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General in Washington, D.C.
CMU alum Matthew Pitzer shares his path from accounting student to cybersecurity analyst.
Pitzer graduated from CMU with a degree in accounting. He returned to campus to recruit students and to participate in a career panel discussion during cybersecurity awareness month.
"When I joined the Office of Inspector General in 2009, we had about three teams performing information technology management audits. Now the cyberspace workforce has grown to more than 15 teams, and we're projected to gain another three teams in the near future."
Pitzer told students to focus on building soft skills, such as teamwork and problem-solving, alongside their technical knowledge in whatever major they select.
"The new employees who are most successful have a strong desire to continue to learn, the ability to think critically and have great communication skills. I was an accounting major with zero cyber experience other than the TERP10 certification. Now I'm an auditor who has never seen a financial statement in my career."
Building a competitive résumé
Former club president Gerald Smith, a 2018 CMU graduate, encourages current students to take advantage of the resources on campus to build a great résumé.
Before he accepted a position as an information security analyst at The Dow Chemical Co., Smith took courses in cybercrime forensics and network fundamentals at CMU. He also spent several hours a week involved in registered student organizations and campus jobs.
"You can only learn so much in a lecture hall. My on-campus job at the Office of Information Technology help desk played a big part in building my résumé. All the clubs I was involved with — the Cyber Security Club, Phi Sigma Pi, the Empowered Latino Union and Chi Alpha — led to a ton of connections, too."