MSU: Arming Future Data Scientists, Cybersecurity Experts, and Hosting Industry Professionals with Marketable IT Skills

Gain It Skills At Montclair State University

TL; DR: The Department of Computer Science at Montclair State University offers students a pathway to in-demand tech careers with a degree program featuring computer science, information technology, data science, and cybersecurity. The New Jersey-based institution’s flexible course offerings, available online and in person, are designed to equip students with marketable skills in industry and academia. The department’s new research and teaching facilities, combined with an expanding degree catalog, will further its mission to provide students with the skills necessary for tomorrow’s workforce — including hosting industry professionals.

Industry leaders have warned us of a growing shortage in relevant technical skills for a good decade now.

In the U.S. alone, nearly 350,000 cybersecurity jobs remained unfilled as of July 2017, according to Deloitte’s “Cyber Risk in Consumer Business” study. The shortfall is only expected to progress in the coming years, with workforce deficiencies projected to surpass 1.8 million workers worldwide by 2022.

The bright side? Universities across the nation are working to equip students with the skills they need to fulfill these crucial modern roles.

“Right now, more than half of the new Ph.D. students graduating from computer science departments nationwide have dissertations that focus either on cybersecurity or data science,” said Constantine Coutras, Chair of the Department of Computer Science at Montclair State University in New Jersey.

Constantine Coutras, Chair of the Department of Computer Science at Montclair State University

Constantine Coutras, Chair of the Department of Computer Science, gave us a view of Montclair State University.

Montclair State, which Forbes has dubbed one of New Jersey’s top colleges, is contributing to future talent pools with the department’s expanding portfolio of degrees in cybersecurity, computer science, information technology, and data science. With a range of graduate and undergraduate options, the school makes IT accessible for experienced learners and those without a background in computing.

Best yet, the university is offering flexible online and in-person courses designed to accommodate needs and preferences amid the ongoing pandemic. The newly-renovated Center for Computing and Information Science features cutting-edge technology, equipment, and labs, while online coursework is available for those who wish to remain socially distanced.

So whether you’re hoping to become a cybersecurity researcher or a rising star in the hosting industry (watch out, AWS), read on: After all, the next semester is right around the corner.

Degrees in Computer Science, IT, Data Science, and Cybersecurity

Montclair State’s Department of Computer Science is currently housed within the Center for Computing and Information Science, which was built in 2018. But the department’s history dates back to the 70s.

“The first computer science degree at the school existed in the late 70s as part of the math department,” Constantine said. “In the early 80s, a separate department was formed; initially, it only had an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in computer science.”

Today, the school offers a wide range of degree options, including a master’s degree in cybersecurity that was added in 2019. The program is positioned to address demands in managerial and technical workforces, with a focus on computational, legal, and ethical training. The curriculum, taught by doctorate-level cybersecurity experts, also includes opportunities to work on innovative, hands-on research projects.

“The Department of Computer Science went from two graduate degrees to four in the last two years — now, we have computer science, information technology, data science, and cybersecurity at the graduate level now,” Constantine said. “A lot of graduate students wanted something more specialized, with more courses in data science and cybersecurity. These are core areas in which the department is very strong.”

After adding the programs, the department saw graduate enrollment jump more than 50%. Constantine told us the school is preparing for continued growth in data science and cybersecurity — both professionally and academically.

“We see an increase of importance of both cybersecurity and data science as far as the workforce goes, but also we see the importance within higher education itself,” he said. “There’s a shift in the research, as well.”

New Research Labs and Teaching Facilities

The cutting-edge technology, equipment, and labs at the newly renovated Center for Computing and Information Science are also reflective of Montclair State’s support for STEM education. Part of the project included the addition of a fourth floor to accommodate the thousands of students focused on computer science and information technology.

The facility’s 19 classrooms and lab include specialized spaces for research and instruction in computational sensing, cybersecurity, data science, human-computer interaction, image processing, and parallel and distributed computing. There’s also robotics, network science, natural language processing, and software engineering labs.

“We have brand new research labs, brand new teaching facilities,” Constantine said. “The room, for example, in which I’m teaching Hawk Live has two cameras that can show me and the rest of the room, microphones on the ceiling and up at the front. These modern facilities that came at the right time in terms of teaching remotely; I feel fortunate to take advantage of the infrastructure we have here.”

computer science hardware

The department is working to equip students with the skills necessary for tomorrow’s workforce.

Montclair State is also continuing to hire faculty for the department, which is not always the case in academia these days. “We’ve been hiring at least one faculty member for the last about six years,” Constantine said. “Some years, we hire two or three.”

In addition to hiring top teaching talent, the school is focused on ensuring high job placement rates through career development, including resumé-building services.

“My department has a good working relationship with our alumni office,” Constantine said. “Our graduates are always welcome to come back and take advantage of the career services we offer, but most find that their skills are very much in demand.”

Flexible Online and In-Person Course Offerings

Whether readying students (also known as Hawks) for roles as research scholars or CTOs of major hosting companies, Montclair State University wants to make sure all learners are safe during the coronavirus pandemic. Fortunately, the transition from on-campus to remote classes back in March was a smooth one for the computer science department,

“We put our courses online and used Zoom to continue teaching at the same time as the course was held in class — an approach we called synchronous online learning,” Constantine said. “Now, we also offer courses in a format called Hawk Live. I go to the classroom every day for whoever wants to come in (within capacity, of course). It’s broadcast live at the moment that I’m teaching it, and I’m also recording it for those who prefer to watch it later.”

Constantine said that the Hawk Live classes he teachers feature an equal mix of virtual students and those who attend in person. Other courses are only offered through Zoom, while some, such as the classic sciences, have to be held in a lab.

“Students have a lot of flexibility, which is especially helpful in these times,” he said.

If you’re looking to break into the hosting industry — or any IT profession — be sure to keep an eye on Montclair State’s Department of Computer Science. Hosting may be a highly competitive industry, but a solid education in cybersecurity is a sure way to stand head and shoulders above the rest.