Ivy Tech Cyber Academy continues to grow



In 11 months, a student can earn an Associate of Applied Science in cybersecurity and then move on to a high-paying, in-demand job.

Steven Combs, chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College Columbus, said the Ivy Tech Cyber Academy at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Butlerville is the only place on the globe that offers an accelerated degree program in that field.

There are colleges that offer two-year programs, but Ivy Tech is the only one that does it faster.

"It’s globally unique," he said. "Not only in 11 months are they coming out with a degree, which really just says that they got through a degree, their certifications say, ‘I’m ready for the workforce.’ … We know when our folks are coming out, they are immediately ready for the workforce."

Combs said a graduate’s average salary is $65,000, but there have been some go on to make six figures.

"Salaries are high. It’s going to get higher just because of the demand," he said, referring to more companies wanting to protect sensitive information. "More people are being conscious of that and see what they need to do. I think there’s going to be a greater need."

After several years of planning, the Cyber Academy had its first cohort in 2018 with 38 students. This year’s third cohort of 26 will graduate July 30, giving the program more than 100 total graduates.

"We’re doing a great job, but we want to do more," Combs said. "We should have 200, 300 people run through. Our goal is to take over the whole first floor (of a building at MUTC)."

The program has drawn students of a variety of ages from Jackson, Jennings and other Indiana counties and even from other states.

Since last summer, it has been Kristina Samples’ job to promote the program and get more students enrolled. Before becoming assistant director of admissions and academic adviser for Ivy Tech, she was a Spanish teacher at Brownstown Central High School.

"You can’t turn on the news anymore without hearing something about a cyber attack on U.S. companies and infrastructures," she said.

"This career field is in high demand," she said. "And unlike other cybersecurity programs that are offered completely online or in traditional classrooms, students here at the MUTC have the opportunity to learn practical, hands-on skills in real-life scenarios, such as in infiltrated water treatment plants, a prison, a military cyber training center and a subway station."

Another bonus: The program is a fraction of the cost compared to other cybersecurity degree programs in the state, Samples said.

Joseph Bodden said he was looking for a good cybersecurity program to teach in, and once he found out about the Cyber Academy, he moved here from Miami and now is a senior faculty member.

"It’s the best-kept secret in Indiana," he said, noting the students do the college work and also get the three industry certifications, CompTIA A+, Network+ and Security+. "This program does prepare people immediately for the workforce. That’s the beauty of it."

In the accelerated program, there are English, algebra, speech, earth science and psychology classes, all taught by standard Ivy Tech instructors.

Bodden and Michael Allred, a 2019 graduate of the Cyber Academy who now is a faculty fellow, teach the cybersecurity classes.

Those include informatics, hardware/software support, software development, Linux, networking, information security, digital forensics, ethical hacking, network perimeter defense, project management, business continuity, network protocol defense and threat hunting.

The program starts in August and consists of classes eight hours a day for four days a week, going in five eight-week blocks. In the end, they earn two years’ worth of college credit hours (60).

"That is a jam-packed program," Bodden said. "If anyone that’s looking at a college and cost and return on investment, there is not a program not just in Indiana but in most of the U.S. that is this jam-packed."

Students could become a cybersecurity analyst, a network security analyst or a security operations center analyst or they could work in information technology support services, vulnerability assessment or what Bodden describes as "top rung," a penetration tester.

"It’s really a testament to how much work they have to endure over one year, so that in itself should be an indicator to an employer of how dedicated this person is to the profession if they can endure the one-year program that has two years’ worth of college credits," he said.

Allred did so well in the Cyber Academy program he was asked by a faculty member to become an instructor. Prior to becoming a student, he said he worked in emergency medical services. Burnout in that field led to him enrolling in the Cyber Academy, which allowed him to further explore his interest in computers.

Seymour natives Garrett Dixon and John Meroney, both of whom finished high school in 2015, also were in other fields of work before starting at the Cyber Academy.

Dixon had been an electrician for a year and needed to go back to school, so after he heard about the program from Meroney, he jumped at the opportunity.

"I’ve always been a tech-oriented person, so this was interesting to me," Dixon said. "I just decided to do it and pursue it and see what it was because I know a lot about the hardware side with computers and everything, and I know a little bit about the technical side, but a lot of this was new to me."

After high school, Meroney said he tried going to a college but didn’t like it, so he switched to the workforce. He didn’t like that, either, so he was happy to hear about the Cyber Academy from his mother, who is an adjunct professor for Ivy Tech.

"The best knowledge base that I’ve gotten from this has been a basic level understanding of coding, and not necessarily how to code, but the understanding that goes behind that and how those processes work together," he said. "That has been very useful in terms of just understanding the way web browsers can connect and talk to each other. (That) has just opened many other fields of interest."

Dixon said the digital forensics class sparked his interest in entering that field once he graduates.

"I really enjoy the idea of data acquisition and solving the problems of finding out what this data is, what it’s for, so however that can assist law enforcement or it could be in the private sector for someone that shouldn’t be doing something they are doing," he said. "I really enjoy the forensics aspect, and that’s something I found out I enjoy from the program."

Meroney said he plans to first pursue an entry-level analyst job.

"Then either moving up from there or diverging and just diversifying and trying to become an entrepreneur or something like that," he said. "I haven’t fully decided yet."

Cameron Kincer and Luke Hauersperger of Seymour and Brennon Fleetwood of Vallonia were fresh out of high school when they started at the Cyber Academy in August 2020.

Kincer saw tours advertised in a newsletter and went for it since he wanted to learn about cybersecurity, Hauersperger learned about it in a school email and Fleetwood’s mother told him about the tours.

"I went there in the fall of the first cohort year. I instantly was interested and wanted to do it," said Fleetwood, who was a junior at Brownstown Central High School at the time. "I went through the rest of high school and then afterwards got into this program."

At first, though, he didn’t know much about computers.

"I had to learn everything about putting a computer together and taking it apart, all of the basic stuff of it, so I had to basically learn all of this from the beginning," he said. "I was way behind everybody else, but I think I’m doing decently well with it."

Hauersperger didn’t know about the inner workings of a computer, so he also had a lot to learn.

"I read a lot, and I watched a lot of videos," he said.

Kincer said the program has been intense, but it will pay off as he pursues a career.

"A lot of work to get done each week," he said. "It has been difficult, but we’ve gotten through."

After graduation, Kincer said he’s considering starting small by working at an IT help desk, Hauersperger is going to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis to earn a higher degree and specialize in cybersecurity and Fleetwood wants to find a job in the area or Indianapolis.

All three encourage other high school students and adults to consider the Cyber Academy.

"You hear all of the time big attacks on these companies," Kincer said. "People are going to want cybersecurity specialists, and if you learn now, then you will be specialized to do this kind of stuff, and they will pay you a lot for it."

Hauersperger said the certifications and degree allow graduates to enter a variety of occupations, while Fleetwood said rapid technology advancements mean there will be a need for cybersecurity jobs.

"This being a program where you can go for 11 months, get an associate degree and you learn all of the knowledge that you get through this program, it gives you a quick amount to go into cybersecurity," Fleetwood said. "It gives you plenty of options to pursue more or go for a career."

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For information about the Ivy Tech Cyber Academy, contact Kristina Samples at 812-374-5354 or [email protected].


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