Students show their specialty T-shirts Friday on their first of class. <span class='image-credits'>Courtesy of USF</span>

ReliaQuest gift to USF funds innovative cybersecurity training program

Erik Heiman, a 24-year-old business student at the University of South Florida in Tampa, is among the university’s first 30 students to enroll in a first-of-its-kind, certificate program to equip students for careers in cybersecurity.

The program, being funded by a $1 million donation from ReliaQuest, will train USF students from any degree program, at any level of instruction, on any USF campus. The course began Friday, October 5, and will last for four consecutive weeks on a not-for-credit basis.

“So far it’s been really informative,” Heiman says during a class break. “It’s given me a different take, a different view on security and the importance of it.”

For the senior majoring in business analytics and business information systems, it was an opportunity he didn’t want to pass up, though he hadn’t narrowed his career aspirations to cybersecurity.

“I never closed off any doors,” he explains. “I never was 100 percent focused, this is what I wanted to do.”

After completing the certification program, students may be hired for security analyst positions at salaries ranging from $55,000 to $65,000 a year in base pay. They also can choose to work part-time.

“We don’t call them interns. We call them employees,” says Brian Murphy, ReliaQuest’s CEO. Brian Murphy is CEO of ReliaQuest.

The Information security analyst career field is expected to grow 28 percent between 2016 and 2026, much faster than average, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median annual pay is $95,510 a year, or $45.92 an hour, it says.

ReliaQuest employs 180 at its headquarters at 777 S. Harbour Island Blvd., Suite 500, Tampa, where it also houses a Security Operations Center. Additional Security Operations Centers operate in Las Vegas and Dublin.

The company, which also employs 120 at other locations, assists clients that are typically Fortune 1000 companies. This includes large retailers, hospital systems and financial institutions. Its goal is to reduce cyber risk and protect data and intellectual property.

For USF, the program is a breakaway from the traditional university model, which may graduate students that need to be retrained to work in business.

“I really think it’s a game changer for our students. It’s a game changer for our community,” says Muma College of Business Dean Moez Limayem. “We’re hopefully being a model for others to follow.”

It is the “essence of WWW: Win, Win, Win,” Limayem continues. “The first win is really the student. They’re having the skills.”

Moez Limayem is the Muma College of Business Dean at USF. The certificate program is a collaborative effort that arose when brainstorming about the talent needs. Students apply to the program, and if accepted, receive a scholarship. The coursework is rigorous, Limayem says, and includes homework and tests.

“The broader goal is to make sure there is no shortage of talent,” says Murphy, who holds bachelors of science degrees in Accounting and Finance from Florida State University. “There is no shortage of people that would love to work. We just need to facilitate the skills, the knowledge transfer, to enable them to start their career.”

Students have been learning about networks and infrastructure, in essence, what technology does. Now the jointly developed curriculum, which utilizes a simulator at ReliaQuest Cybersecurity Labs at USF, is aiming to fill the knowledge gap between theory and practice, to clarify what is important data and what is not.

“They don’t know why. The best way to learn why is to actually do it, to get in a simulated environment that looks like a lot of the technology,” Murphy says.

ReliaQuest’s gift will be paid out over five years to finance the training of hundreds of students, helping USF to expand its reputation for providing cybersecurity instruction that is relevant.

Students who are interested in the program should contact the business college.

What does the future hold? Perhaps more collaborations between ReliaQuest and USF, as well as more partnerships with other businesses. It might involve other career fields.

According to Limayem, it’s all part of rethinking the college’s role in the 21st Century.

“These partnerships are essential to address the shortage in talent in many areas,” he explains.

USF is committed to making it work.

“Our hope is that more businesses will join in, and this becomes another way for USF and Muma [College of Business] to serve our community and our businesses,” says Limayem, who holds both an MBA and Ph.D. in Business Administration from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. “In this case, failure is not an option.”

What advice does Heiman have for fellow students?

“If it’s free training, there’s no downside,” he says. “The training that you’re going to get is invaluable. Just go for it.”

Read more articles by Cheryl Rogers.

Cheryl Rogers is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys writing about careers. An ebook author, she also writes Bible Camp Mystery series that shares her faith. She is publisher of New Christian Books Online Magazine and founder of the Mentor Me Career Network, a free online community, offering career consulting, coaching and career information. 
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