Interview with Donald Heier, D.Sc. and Michelle Wieser, Ph.D. about the Online M.S. in Cybersecurity and Graduate Certificates in Cybersecurity Technology and Cybersecurity Management at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota
About Donald Heier, D.Sc.: Donald Heier is the Director of the Master of Science in Cybersecurity at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota. As Director, he oversees curriculum development and updates for the program, supports faculty, and manages student advising, recruitment, and admissions. In addition, he teaches courses in database management, computer architecture, web development, networks, and Linux. Dr. Heier earned his bachelor’s degree in Engineering from South Dakota State University, where he focused on integrating computing technology into science research and the study of microprocessor design. He earned his master’s in Information Systems and his Doctor of Science in Information Assurance and Computer Security from Dakota State University, where he researched small business information security challenges.
Prior to teaching full time at the university level, Dr. Heier spent 15 years in industry with job titles such as network engineer and technology or project director, primarily in the accounting and financial services industry.
About Michelle Wieser, Ph.D.: Michelle Wieser is the Dean of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota’s School of Business and Technology. As Dean, Dr. Wieser oversees the development of all undergraduate programs, graduate programs, and certificates within the school, ensuring that all programs are in alignment with Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota’s core academic missions. One of Dr. Wieser’s primary focus areas as Dean is sustained growth of the University’s bachelor’s completion and master’s programs, through constant innovation and strategic partnerships.
Previously, Dr. Wieser served as Director of the Graduate Business Career Center with the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. Prior to entering academia, she held numerous advanced marketing, consulting, and recruiting positions, including Vice President for Brand Management Executive Recruiting at the O’Connell Group Executive Search and Management Consultant with Ernst & Young.
Dr. Wieser earned her Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development from the University of Minnesota, her MBA in Marketing from Washington University in St Louis, and her Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri. She specializes in research that examines the experiences of MBA graduates across the U.S. and Europe, and the differences in these experiences across gender and racial lines. Dr. Wieser is an advocate for social justice in the corporate sphere, having partnered with Menttium to develop a program called “Women Mentoring Men: Standing Together for Change.” She has also served on the Board of the Minnesota Women in Marketing and Communications association, the MBA Career Services and Employer Alliance, and the Forté Foundation.
[CyberSecurityDegree.com] May we have more information about the School of Business and Technology at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, and the history of the development of both the Master of Science in Cybersecurity and the Graduate Certificates in Cybersecurity Technology and Cybersecurity Management? When were these programs developed and how were they designed to prepare students to work at the forefront of cybersecurity developments?
[Dr. Donald Heier] Saint Mary’s began planning for the Master’s in Cybersecurity in 2016 and Dr. Heier joined the university to lead the development of this program in the Fall of 2017. The team consisted of industry experts, many of whom had served as Chief Information Security Officers for medium to large companies. These experts provided insight into the cybersecurity knowledge and skills that they would like to see in the managers and technology experts they hire. This insight and the desire to provide preparation for graduates to obtain Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification guided the development of the objectives for the courses and the entire degree program. The masters program launched in the Fall of 2018. In 2020 we began looking at certificate options that would provide more attractive pathways for students. Our two certificates were developed from the existing courses with one certificate focusing on security management aspects and the other focusing on the hands-on technology-based aspects.
Shortly after the approval of the online Master of Science in Cybersecurity program, a cybersecurity track in computer science at the Winona campus was approved and we are currently looking to include cybersecurity options in our bachelor’s programs based out of Minneapolis.
[CyberSecurityDegree.com] Could you please provide an overview of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota’s Online Master of Science in Cybersecurity, how it is structured, and how it helps to propel students’ careers into cybersecurity and IT management? How do the courses in this program prepare students to design, manage, and maintain cybersecurity systems?
[Dr. Donald Heier] The master’s program is easily broken down into three main components that are designed to work together to prepare graduates to lead cybersecurity programs within businesses. The first component is based on management and organization and consists of courses like risk management, security policy, security architecture and change management. The second component focuses on building up the technology skills and experience with courses that focus on network security, intrusion detection, incident response, ethical hacking, network defense and data privacy and encryption. The third component is designed to build leadership skills with courses that focus on communication, ethics, conflict management, decision-making, and effective message delivery.
These three components are introduced in the first course, which discusses the foundations for the study of cybersecurity. The components come fully together in the final course, which is a capstone project that integrates content from all the courses.
[CyberSecurityDegree.com] How does Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota’s M.S. in Cybersecurity prepare students to take their CISSP and CISM certification exams? What is the importance of these professional certifications in the cybersecurity industry, and what key concepts and skills do students learn in Saint Mary’s program that prepare them to earn these credentials?
[Dr. Donald Heier] The courses in the master’s program have outcomes that line up directly with the 8 CISSP domains or knowledge areas; thus preparation for CISSP is integrated throughout students’ coursework. The CISSP is the top certification offered from (ISC)2 and students are also prepared to meet many other certification requirements from other agencies like CISM, CISA, or Security+. CISSP certification is not necessary to find employment in cybersecurity, but it does provide a confirmation to employers that students have completed a rigorous education program and are prepared to continue the study of cybersecurity due to the continuing education requirements.
[CyberSecurityDegree.com] For students who are deliberating between earning their M.S. in Cybersecurity or a Graduate Certificate in Cybersecurity Technology and/or Management, what should they take into consideration? May we also have more information about the curricula for the Graduate Certificates in Cybersecurity Technology and Cybersecurity Management at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, and how they differ from the curricula for the M.S. program?
[Dr. Donald Heier] I think each student needs to think about his or her goals in pursuing education in this area. Is the master’s degree going to help students optimally meet those goals or would students prefer a quicker path for a potential career change? With the way this program is structured, it is not something a potential student would have to decide right away. The courses for the certificate programs come from the full master’s program and these certificates will provide the pathway for the full MS degree if that is what the student chooses. The certificates match up directly with the first two components of the master’s program that I discussed in question 2.
As mentioned previously, the first component is based on management and organization, and it is those courses that make up the cybersecurity management certificate. The second component focuses on building up the technology skills and experience and it is those courses that comprise the cybersecurity technology certificate. With those two certificates the student will need to complete the leadership, communication, and capstone course to earn the full master’s degree.
[CyberSecurityDegree.com] Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota’s M.S. in Cybersecurity and its Graduate Certificate programs in Cybersecurity Technology and Cybersecurity can all be completed 100% online. What online technologies do these programs use to facilitate interactions between course faculty and students? Are classes primarily asynchronous, synchronous, or a combination of both?
[Dr. Donald Heier and Dr. Michelle Wieser] All the courses are designed as 8-week, asynchronous online courses and are hosted though our online learning management systems. Courses will include use of online videos, virtual labs, and discussions, and it is very common for instructors to have online office hours plus open discussion sessions outside of the regular class requirements.
[CyberSecurityDegree.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota’s M.S. in Cybersecurity and its Graduate Certificate programs in Cybersecurity Technology and Cybersecurity Management? Independent of faculty instruction and support, what career development resources and academic services are available to students of these programs? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems while in their M.S. or graduate certificate program?
[Dr. Donald Heier] Since the courses are the same, the students in the certificate program and the masters program have the same access to the same mentorship opportunities. Many of the courses feature online virtual labs that the instructors will help guide the students through to make sure they can apply the skills they have been taught. The faculty are eager to engage and discuss individually with students about their career pathways and how to be successful in the cybersecurity field.
Students have easy access to our Academic Advising Services and our Career Services to help students get “from here to career” and can set up appointments with staff online.
[CyberSecurityDegree.com] For students who are interested in Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota’s M.S. in Cybersecurity and/or its Graduate Certificate programs in Cybersecurity Technology and Cybersecurity, what advice do you have for submitting a competitive application?
[Dr. Donald Heier and Dr. Michelle Wieser] The admission requirements are listed below, but we are looking for those students who are excited to learn and are excited about being involved in the cybersecurity field. Our cohorts are very diverse and we designed the programs to be open to all students with varying educational backgrounds.
- An undergraduate degree from a regionally accredited institution
- A minimum GPA of 2.75 on a 4.0 scale
- A written statement: Your background and future goals all impact your success with Saint Mary’s and inform your education. As you prepare your written statement, think about including previous experiences, education, and your strengths and interests. Share your motivations for earning the online master’s or certificate and how it will contribute to your career.
- Two email and phone references
- A current resume
- If your overall GPA is below 2.75, you may receive conditional status in the program at the discretion of the program director.
[CyberSecurityDegree.com] What makes Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota’s M.S. in Cybersecurity and its Graduate Certificate programs in Cybersecurity Technology and Cybersecurity unique, and particularly strong options for students? To the quality and timeliness of the curricula to the expertise and mentorship of faculty, what are the standout aspects of this program that you would like prospective students to know about?
[Dr. Donald Heier and Dr. Michelle Wieser] This program is unique in that it was designed by cybersecurity professionals who are still working in the field and many of them are teaching classes in the program. Our faculty stay current in their field of study and certifications, and are strongly encouraged to share their workplace experiences with the students. The faculty for all the courses have at least 15 years of real world experience in their area of cybersecurity and are committed to providing quality education and knowledge that the student will be able to apply right away as they begin their careers in cybersecurity.
Thank you, Dr. Donald Heier and Dr. Michelle Wieser for your excellent insight into Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota’s Master of Science in Cybersecurity and its Graduate Certificates in Cybersecurity Technology and Cybersecurity!
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