Information assurance coursework-only master’s program offers flexibility in growing field

Data breaches like the one Target faced this holiday shopping season are a constant concern in the information assurance field.

Doug Jacobson

Doug Jacobson is director of the Iowa State University Information Assurance Center.

Doug Jacobson, University Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of the Iowa State University Information Assurance Center, says cybersecurity is increasingly crucial as more data is stored digitally.

“Hackers are getting more sophisticated and ruthless, and as a result, securing data is becoming more challenging,” he added. “Preparing professionals to best protect and defend this information is an absolute necessity.

Jeremiah Bristow

Jeremiah Bristow, who graduated from the master’s of engineering in information assurance program in 2011, says the flexibility of the online program allowed him to pursue an advanced degree.

Jeremiah Bristow, director of corporate and information security at SHAZAM, is one of those professionals. Securing data is at the heart of his job.

Bristow completed his master’s of engineering in information assurance in 2011 as well as his bachelor’s in computer engineering in 1997 at Iowa State.

In a technical position with SHAZAM before he started his master’s degree, Bristow pursued an advanced degree to expand his technical understanding in the information security field. Through his coursework, he gained a “broader and deeper understanding of information security from multiple perspectives.”

That’s because Iowa State’s coursework-only master’s program offers courses about ethical and legal issues in addition to the technical aspects of computer security.

Bristow says being able to complete the classes completely online made getting his master’s a real possibility.

“Balancing a full-time job and busy home life with graduate level coursework would not have been possible without the flexibility of the online format,” he adds. “I watched lectures and did classwork after the kids were in bed, took proctored exams at the office, and submitted assignments and conversed with my instructors online via the course website and via email.”

In the end, Bristow was promoted to management soon after completing his degree. “If I had not completed the program when I did, this opportunity would not have been available to me,” he noted.  “The knowledge I gained from the program not only opened the door to the information security field for me; it also positioned me to make an immediate impact in the field.”

The master’s of engineering in information assurance consists of a total of 30 credit hours, typically with 18 credits from the core set of courses, nine credits from electives, and three credits of a capstone course.

Students who want to get a better idea of what information assurance is about can complete a shorter certificate program, which is 12 credits. The credits can be applied to the master’s degree if approved.

The courses for off-campus students are the same for on-campus students pursuing master degrees. They are coordinated by the Information Assurance Center, which was pivotal in Iowa State University being named one of the original seven charter Centers of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education by the National Security Agency.

“I can’t say enough how important information security is going to be for our future,” Jacobson said. “There’s a real demand for professionals equipped with an understanding of both the engineering and the policy side of the security of information infrastructure, and Iowa State’s information assurance programs work to prepare students to be ready to make an immediate impact.”

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