Perseverance Pays Off for Couple Pursuing Careers in Cybersecurity and Health Informatics 

Shkelzen Deshishku and his wife, Teuta, came to the United States in 1999, just after the war in their home country, Kosovo, ended. The move forced both to leave family, jobs and university studies, but it never diminished either’s desire to earn a college degree. 

In his first years in the United States, Shkelzen, who goes by Xeni, worked in a series of jobs that included selling cars. Then he discovered University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) and realized he could work full-time while studying in a program that afforded him the flexibility he needed. Teuta found employment as a medical assistant. 

They settled into their new life and started a family that would grow to include four children now ranging in age from 6 to 19. They juggled work, school and home life. 

With patience and perseverance, Xeni obtained a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity in 2019. He went on to earn a Master of Science in Digital Forensics Cyber Investigation in May 2021. Meanwhile, Teuta moved up the ranks to clinical manager at the medical practice where she works. She obtained a B.S. in psychology from UMGC. 

“It was important for us to earn degrees so that our kids would see us as role models. In fact, I graduated a year before my oldest started college,” said Xeni. “I tell my kids that college might be difficult, but it’s a gift many people around the world aren’t able to obtain.

“‘Slow and steady wins the race’ became our motto,” he added.

For Xeni, a degree in cybersecurity culminated a lifelong interest in information technology. Teuta’s childhood enthusiasm about becoming a medical doctor evolved into an interest in psychology and the administrative side of the medical field. She is now pursuing a Master of Science in Health Informatics Administration at UMGC to advance her career as a clinical manager of electronic health record systems. 

Xeni now works as an information systems security officer at Synergy ECP, where he enjoys bringing new talent together to positively address challenges. 

Teuta also recognizes the cybersecurity risks inherent in her work. “It is important to keep health records secure, especially when considering all the cyber intrusions as well as ransomware attacks that are crippling the health care systems,” she said. 

Xeni aspires to become a special agent with a focus in digital forensics and cyber investigation, while Teuta has her eye on becoming a clinical informatics analyst. For both, the biggest challenge is time management. Through their pursuit of work-life balance, perseverance has emerged as the tool that keeps them focused and committed to the end goal. 

“A letter from my son at graduation showed me that our greatest achievement is not necessarily our degrees, but the example and the expectations we set for our children,” said Xeni. 

UMGC Cyber Team Enters Fall Season with a Victory at Parsons Capture the Flag Competition

Adelphi, Md. (October 8, 2021)–The University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) cyber competition team placed first in in a recent capture the flag (CTF) tournament sponsored by Parsons Corporation, a global provider of cyber and converged security services.

At the Sept. 28 event, which attracted cybersecurity professionals and students of all skill levels, UMGC scored 4,300 points to beat out 10 other teams and take first place. The winning UMGC team included current student and active duty Air Force member John Cole, as well as recent alumni Paul Chilcote, Alex Barney and Jonathan Woodward, who all received their undergraduate degrees from UMGC. 

“Our win in this Parsons event was particularly meaningful because the team fell out of first place with only 24 minutes left, but then regained the lead for good and won by only 100 points,” said Jesse Varsalone, associate professor of Computer Networks and Cybersecurity at UMGC and coach of the competition team. “The victory was a testament to the highly developed skills of the students and alumni who participated.”

The Parsons jeopardy style CTF event tested participants’ skills on a range of relevant topics, including network forensics, coding, web hacking, cryptography, analytics, penetration testing, malware analysis, algorithms and reverse engineering. Typically an in-person event, students participated in this Parsons CTF competition remotely due to COVID-19 restrictions. “In the face of the pandemic, UMGC has continued to grow its team and compete in remote events at the highest level and the Parsons competition, based in Denver Colorado, is yet another example,” said Varsalone.

Established in 2012, the UMGC cybersecurity team is composed of students, alumni, and faculty who compete regularly in digital forensics, penetration testing, and computer network defense scenarios that help them gain experience to advance their cybersecurity careers. To prepare for competitions, students detect and combat cyberattacks in the university’s Virtual Security Lab and work through case studies in an online classroom. Through its history, the team has received numerous top honors, including recent first-place finishes in the 2021 Maryland Cyber Challenge and the 2020 MAGIC, Inc. capture the flag competition. 

About University of Maryland Global Campus

University of Maryland Global Campus is a world leader in innovative educational models with award-winning online programs in biotechnology, cybersecurity, data analytics, information technology, and other high-demand disciplines in today’s increasingly technical, global workplace. With an enrollment of some 90,000 students, UMGC offers open access with a global footprint and a specific mission—to meet the learning needs of students whose responsibilities may include jobs, family, and military service. The university offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificate programs, including doctoral programs. A pioneer in distance education since 1947, UMGC is harnessing the power of learning science and technology to deliver accessible high quality, low-cost higher education.

2021 GenCyber Campers Gain the Toolkit to Prepare the Next Generation

High school teachers gathered virtually for an intensive week-long workshop designed to help incorporate cybersecurity into school curriculum. The program, offered with the support of University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), provided educators with an array of skills, games, labs, and supporting tools and technologies to take back to their classrooms.

“What stood out to me was the way that we were able to build a community of teachers by the end of the week,” said Brandie Shatto, program chair for the GenCyber camp and professor of instructional technology at UMGC. “We were able to incorporate activities throughout the camp that required collaboration and allowed the teachers to get to know each other and the instructional staff.”

Last offered in 2019 as an in-person event, this year’s July 26-30 camp was delivered via Zoom, but that did not stop participants from thriving in a collaborative environment.

Kyra Walker

The teachers came from high schools in five Maryland counties, as well as the District of Columbia, northern Virginia, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. They represented a broad range of subject areas, including homeland security, computer science, data structures, engineering, networking, and library sciences. The program exposed them to the many facets of cybersecurity.

“I hope to give my students an insight to an undiscovered portal,” said Kyra Walker,a resource teacher for the gifted at the Arlington Career Center in Arlington, Virginia. “I’m looking forward to incorporating the skills of ethical hacking into our problem-based learning projects.”

Leading the instruction at the event were Shannon Beck, assistant professor of computer and cyber sciences at the United States Air Force Academy, and Kim Mentzell, cybersecurity program manager at the Maryland Department of Commerce.

“The diversity, deep experience, and interest of the teacher participants was particularly notable this year,” said Beck. “One of the notable interactions was a debate about privacy centered around views for cell phone access.”

In addition to cybersecurity training relevant to grades 9–12, camp participants receive cybersecurity curriculum development support, resources to take back to the classroom, a $1,300 stipend for full program participation, and a certificate of completion.

Top Higher Ed Publication Ranks UMGC No. 1 in Conferring Master’s Degrees in IT to Minority Students

Adelphi, Md. (July 12, 2021)—Diverse: Issues in Higher Education (Diverse), the preeminent source of news, information and commentary on issues concerning diversity in American higher education, has ranked University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) No. 1 in conferring master’s degrees to minority students in the area of Information Technology, according to its latest survey results.

The results, featured in Diverse’s most recent “Top 100 Degree Producers” rankings of institutions that confer the most degrees to minority students, are based on analysis of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Set. They represent degrees conferred during 2018-19. According to the survey, UMGC ranked number one in the category of IT master’s degrees with 758 total minority graduates in 2018-19 (474 men and 284 women).

“UMGC is particularly proud that minority students constitute 53% of our total enrollment and represent 52% of all UMGC credentials, including degrees in the fastest growing and most in-demand fields,” said Douglas Harrison, vice president and dean, School of Cybersecurity and Information Technology. “This is important because meeting the workforce demands of the future in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) will only be possible by widening the funnel of opportunity for students from historically marginalized populations.”

Information Technology remains one of the hottest industries in the U.S. UMGC’s IT programs are designed with input from today’s top employers to provide technical, operational, and problem-solving skills for career advancement.

“UMGC offers a growing number of graduate and undergraduate degrees and certificates in Information and Computer Science structured for current professionals, career changers, and first time job seekers,” said Dan Mintz, chair, department of Information Technology at UMGC. “Furthermore, we are continually expanding our programs. In addition to our existing master’s degree program in Data Analytics, which was included in the Diverse rankings, we are adding an undergraduate degree in Data Science and a certificate in Business Analytics, thus offering students even more career-relevant options in fields such as machine learning and artificial intelligence.”

About University of Maryland Global Campus

University of Maryland Global Campus is a world leader in innovative educational models, with award-winning online programs in disciplines including biotechnology, cybersecurity, data analytics and information technology that are in high demand in today’s increasingly technical, global workplace. With an enrollment of some 90,000 students, UMGC offers open access with a global footprint and a specific mission—to meet the learning needs of students whose responsibilities may include jobs, family and military service. The university offers both undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs, including doctoral programs. A pioneer in distance education since 1947, UMGC today is harnessing the power of learning science and technology to deliver high quality, low cost, accessible higher education.

UMGC Awarded Grant for 2021 GenCyber Teacher Education Program

Adelphi, Md. (June 7, 2021)– University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) has been awarded a $90,000 grant through the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct a GenCyber program for high-school teachers in the summer of 2021.

Building on the success of a similar program conducted in 2019, the 2021 GenCyber Teacher program, to be held July 26-30, aims to help a new, diverse group of high school teachers improve their methods of delivery for cybersecurity content in their curricula. Like the 2019 event, participants will leave with lesson plans, classroom projects, and a network of like-minded teachers to share future ideas.

“As cyberattacks continue to rise, particularly among educational institutions and school systems, it is vitally important that we arm educators with the skills needed to ensure the security of their students and schools,” said Dr. Loyce Pailen, senior director of the Center for Security Studies at UMGC. “This year’s GenCyber program will build on the 2019 event to provide educators the tools they need to train and inspire the next generation of cyber professionals’

The 2021 GenCyber program will comprise 25 teachers from STEM fields in Maryland and the surrounding area with a priority on teachers in Baltimore City. Consideration will also be given to teachers in other subject areas such as business, given the fact that cybersecurity is a critical element in all facets of the private sector. Participants will receive a $1,300 stipend for full program participation. UMGC will conduct follow-up sessions with participants to further their professional development and support the use of curriculum and materials in their classrooms.

The application deadline for the 2021 camp is Friday, June 11, 2021, at 11:59 p.m. Eligibility requirements and application instructions are available on the UMGC website. In response to the global Covid-19 pandemic, the 2021 program will be conducted in a virtual learning environment.

Paul Chilcote Navigated Life Challenges and the Demands of a Military Career on His Path to a Degree in Cybersecurity

Air Force Veteran Played a Key Role in UMGC Cyber Competition Team’s Recent 1st-Place Finish at the Maryland Cyber Challenge

For Paul Chilcote, life sometimes felt like a juggling act.

“Often, I found myself completing readings and written assignments late at night,” said Chilcote, whose path to a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity Management and Policy, which he received in May, was anything but easy. “Other times, my location or current work duties prevented me from taking classes for a semester or two,” he added.

But Chilcote, recently separated from the United States Air Force, persevered, chipping away at his degree requirements one class at a time while also maintaining a full-time military career and the responsibilities of being a single parent, all during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Chilcote learned persistence early and followed his passion in technology tenaciously. “When I was a kid, I was navigating the command line on an old Amiga computer and playing games on now-obsolete 5-inch floppy disks,” he said. As a teen, he was online constantly, even during the dial-up days.

“I was making friends with computer enthusiasts all over the world, learning to modify hardware and write programs by talking to these new friends in online chatrooms and message boards.”

High school classes in computer programming, 3D animation, and Cisco networking led Chilcote to join the Air Force in 2009 as a fighter aircraft crew chief, where his interests in computers and electronics helped him quickly learn the complex electrical systems that enable aircraft to fly.

Eventually Chilcote seized on an opportunity to retrain as a cyberwarfare operator. In 2013, that training opportunity, as well as his passion for computers and networking, prompted him to enroll in a cybersecurity program at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), tackling one or two classes at a time at night after work.

“My classes at UMGC and my own self-guided learning and computer hobbies helped me prepare for the difficult computer skills tests required to gain acceptance into the Air Force’s training program for cyber warfare operations,” he said. From 2016-18, Chilcote trained for and was tested on system administration, network configuration, and advanced cybersecurity concepts. After that, he began serving as a cyberwarfare operator for the Air Force.

In 2020, Chilcote added “full-time single parent of two” to his résumé, which prompted his decision to leave the military. “I was faced with the challenge of getting my two children through elementary school online, as well as my own classes, while still performing my military duties,” he said. And so he began preparing to separate from the Air Force in late 2020 so that he could devote more time to his children and their hybrid school schedule.

Now a civilian, having separated from the military in March 2021, Chilcote’s journey has led him to his current work as a penetration tester for CyberPoint International, a Maryland-based Department of Defense contractor. Through it all, his UMGC courses in cybersecurity policy and management helped increase his awareness of the complex interaction of laws, regulations and guidelines that companies must manage.

Chilcote capped off his academic accomplishments as a member of the UMGC cyber competition team that won the Maryland Cyber Challenge, the national tournament held during the annual Cyber Maryland conference. Competing in cyber events also contributed to his professional development, allowing him to mentored other students and gain invaluable real-world problem-solving skills. “These events have helped me develop creative solutions and think outside of the typical use of many computer technologies,” he said.

For Chilcote, perseverance and passion paid off, and his advice to other students balancing work and life is simple.

“Don’t be intimidated,” he said. “Cybersecurity is a broad field with countless areas of specializations. No one person knows everything; everyone is constantly learning and relearning as new technologies arise, change and improve.”

UMGC Expertise Featured Prominently at CyberMaryland 2021

The 2021 CyberMaryland Conference presented by the Federal Business Council (FBC) promoted the theme, “Building the Cyber Generation.” During the two-day conference agenda, University of Maryland Global Campus speakers built on this theme with the intent of ensuring today’s cyber-safety and educating tomorrow’s cybersecurity professionals.

Featuring thought leaders from Maryland’s cybersecurity sector as well as nationally recognized speakers and panelists on cyber and technology innovations, the online event covered the most up-to-date information in all facets of the cyber ecosystem. UMGC faculty members, including several from the School of Cybersecurity and Information Technology, presented on a wide range of topics. Notably they discussed current and future cyber legislation, promoting women in cybersecurity, the emerging field of cyber accounting, and the potential of stackable credentialing.

Additionally, the UMGC student cyber competition team scored a big win by placing first in the four-year university category at the conference’s national capture-the-flag (CTF) competition. This signature event, hosted by UMGC, assembled top national cyber talent competing in an online-virtual competition. The UMGC team, including Tim Nordvedt, Paul Chilcote, Louis Rush and Ben Simcox, scored 91 points to take first place, followed by runner up University of Central Florida with 87 points, and Towson University taking third place with 56 points.

Keeping pace with national and local threats through legislation

On day one of the conference, Greg Von Lehman, special assistant for cybersecurity at UMGC, moderated a panel on recent cybersecurity legislation in Maryland and at the federal level. Von Lehman noted that the number of cybersecurity bills proposed in Congress has climbed steadily in recent years as have bills in state legislatures.

“We will be seeing a greater impact of the government’s role in the nation’s cybersecurity,” said Von Lehman. “From 2016 to 2020, we saw that COVID-19 impacted the number of cybersecurity bills that passed, and we should see more passed in 2022.”

Panelists, including Michael Garcia, senior policy advisor at ThirdWay, and Markus Rauschecker, cybersecurity program director at the University of Maryland Center for Health & Homeland Security (CHHS), explored the victories for cybersecurity in the last Congress, the range of cybersecurity issues that state legislatures are seeking to address, and the cybersecurity bills that are currently moving through the Maryland General Assembly.

Garcia added that the 116th Congress has increased the amount of cyber legislation, which is also gaining bipartisan support. “Although going after adversaries is not a key priority thus far, there has been a lot of pressure on members of congress to act after the SolarWinds attacks,” he said.

Von Lehman offered a summary of legislation, stating that most bills introduced and passed on the national level focused on three primary areas—election security, criminality and consumer protection. For election security, 14 best practice bills were introduced out of 35 total and four were passed. Criminality bills focused on increasing penalties, identifying new crimes, and increasing investigative capacity for cybercrimes. Most consumer protection bills introduced focused on security requirements, such as data protection and personal information. In this area, 33 bills were introduced and three passed.

Von Lehman added that legislation in Maryland reflects what is happening on the national stage. “There are 18 cyber-related bills in the current Maryland session focusing on criminal law, consumer protection, preparedness, governance, education and workforce development, and voting security,” he said.

Supporting women in cyber education

A day-one afternoon keynote panel on women in cyber education featured Loyce Pailen, senior director for the Center for Security Studies at UMGC and focused on how public and private organizations can work together to bring more cybersecurity education and employment opportunities to women in their local communities and nationwide.

While cybersecurity jobs are at an all‐time high, she said the gender gap in the field remains wide. The panel discussed ways to build awareness and interest in cyber careers among women of all ages. Pailen stressed the importance of role models. “Girls need to see people like them in the jobs they aspire to attain,” she said. “Rather than introducing girls to cyber, we should be asking them what it is they want to solve in life,” she added.

Also on the panel was 14-year-old Bianca Lewis, otherwise known as “BiaSciLab,” founder of Girls Who Hack, which teaches girls hacking skills so that they can change the future. Asked what educators can do to get girls engaged in cybersecurity, Lewis said, “Kids love anything hands on, so I think that if we want my generation to get into STEAM, we need to teach them hands on projects.”

Panelist Jennifer Wood, head of communications and government affairs at Luta Security, offered a messaging perspective for promoting women in cyber. “We need to change the messages that women are hearing,” she said. “Girls need to see all these women featured as cyber experts and understand that they can have that role as well.” Wood also said that local companies are lagging in terms of engagement. “They need to do a better job engaging in local events and getting involved in the schools to make sure there are increased opportunities in K-12 and beyond.”

Meeting the need for cybersecurity training in the accounting field

As guardians of crucial assets—while not typically thought of as cybersecurity professionals—accountants now play a critical role in cybersecurity and digital forensics. A UMGC panel of four faculty members discussed the impetus to develop a master-level CyberAccounting program, including the expanded role of lawyers and CPAs in cybersecurity.

Accounting firms are treasure troves of information. To hackers, they are targets. And although CPAs are not cyber experts, they do need to know when to engage cyber professionals. They need to understand the risk landscape, how to detect intrusions into assets, how to promote cyber resilience, and how to foster conversations among stakeholders.

Key to cyber accounting, according to Bruce DeGrazia, professor of Cybersecurity Management and Policy, is an understanding of Blockchain. “Leaders in accounting need to understand Blockchain, not because it is the basis for crypto currencies, but because it can be used to protect documents and transactions,” he said. “Blockchain in financial institutions allows us to protect documents and confidentiality.”

DeGrazia also made the case that the CPA skillset is a natural fit for cyber audits. “CPAs are expert in audits and are able to identify cyber risks and assess the severity of each one,” he said. “They are good at auditing security policies and privacy controls, they can perform penetration testing on the social engineering side of cybersecurity, and they can integrate cyber risks into the audit plan.”

Positioning learners for academic and career success with microcredentials

Douglas Harrison, vice president and dean of the UMGC School of Cybersecurity and Information Technology, moderated a session on stackable microcredentials and how providing professionals with right-sized industry-aligned credentials that can be assembled (stacked) toward traditional degrees are increasingly valued in the workplace.

“Students can assemble a series of credentials–certificates, licenses, badges, or apprenticeships–that recognize achievements and abilities,” said Harrison. “This increases their currency in our knowledge economy, creating more direct pathways to better jobs and higher wages.”

Why stackable? The high cost of education and immediate relevancy are two driving factors to incremental learning. “There is a theory that supports learning in smaller bites,” said Harrison. There is also a motivational aspect. Harrison noted that adults also sense value upon completion if learning is done incrementally and in smaller amounts. Moreover, by stacking education into small units of learning, students are afforded the flexibility of coming in and out of learning. Ed Bach, vice president, Strategic Partnerships at UMGC, discussed the business case for stackables from an employer perspective. “Corporations are looking for knowledge now,” he said. “Stackables help us produce focused, well-educated employees for employers, while encouraging life-long learning.

UMGC Takes First Place in CyberMaryland’s National Capture-the-Flag Competition

Adelphi, Md. (March 29, 2021)–University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) placed first in the four-year university category at the 2021 CyberMaryland Conference’s national capture-the-flag (CTF) competition on March 24.

UMGC scored 91 points to take first place, followed by runner up University of Central Florida with 87 points, and Towson University taking third-place with 56 points.

The UMGC team included Tim Nordvedt, captain (MS Cybersecurity Technology); Paul Chilcote (BS Cyber Management and Policy); Louis Rush (MS Digital Forensics and Cyber Investigation); and Ben Simcox (BS Computer Science, Cybersecurity minor).

“Our victory in this annual event is a testament to the rigor of our cybersecurity program and to the highly developed skills of the graduate and undergraduate student practitioners working in the field today,” said Jesse Varsalone, collegiate professor of Cybersecurity Technology at UMGC and organizer of the competition.

The signature event of the conference, the Maryland Cyber Challenge & Competition (MDC3) hosted by UMGC, gathered top national cyber talent competing in an online-virtual competition using the TryHackMe cybersecurity training platform.

The UMGC team was coached by Aaron Klink, associate adjunct professor in Cybersecurity Technology in the School of Cybersecurity and Information Technology. John Galliano, program director, Cybersecurity Technology, and Varsalone ran the competition, which included creating all 100 questions in 10 categories, conducting the training session, tabulating the results, and managing technical issues and questions throughout the competition.

About CyberMaryland 2021

Hosted by the Federal Business Council (FBC), the 2021 CyberMaryland Conference featured two days of educational presentations on the latest IT and cybersecurity technologies by industry and government subject matter experts. The event assembled thought leaders from Maryland’s cybersecurity sector and also featured nationally recognized speakers and panelists on cyber and technology innovations. Sessions covered the most up-to-date information from leaders in all facets of the cyber ecosystem. This year’s theme, “Building the Cyber Generation,” encompassed the event’s intent to ensure the cyber-safety of today and educate the cybersecurity professionals of tomorrow.

UMGC Alumnus Selected as a 2021 Presidential Management Fellows Program Finalist

Adelphi, Md. (Jan. 5, 2021)—Mallory Lawrence, a 2019 graduate of the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) Master’s of Cybersecurity Management and Policy program was recently named a finalist in the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). He was one of 551 finalists selected from approximately 6,800 applicants for the 2021 program year.Continue Reading

UMGC Cyber Experts Predict Rise in Attacks on Software, Cloud and Critical Infrastructure in the Year Ahead

What a year 2020 has been. The Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on our lives in so many ways—how we work, conduct business, socialize, learn and simply go about our daily routines.Continue Reading