Educating the next generation of cyber thinkers - The University of Tulsa
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Educating the next generation of cyber thinkers

In a short time, entire lives have been transformed into complex digital realms dependent on computers and computer networks. Economies, social lives, and a human’s very existence today requires secure and trusted information technologies.

The University of Tulsa continues a long tradition of academic and practical leadership in cyber theory and practice that emerged over decades within the TU’s College of Engineering & Computer Science. TU was recently ranked in the Top 25 nationally by U.S. News & World Report for undergraduate cyber security programs (tying with schools like Harvard and New York University). TU’s School of Cyber Studies, established in 2021, is a significant effort to advance the university’s global standing even further.

Headshot of person in front of monitors

Leading the effort is Professor of Computer Science Tyler Moore, Tandy Endowed Chair of Cyber Security and Information Assurance. He is the inaugural chair of the School of Cyber Studies, an interdisciplinary department that offers degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. Moore is a big thinker advancing strategies for creating trust and security in cyber to create positive change in the world.

“TU has a reputation for producing excellent cyber graduates, a reputation built over the past decades,” Moore said. “We’re continuing that tradition by building the School of Cyber Studies so that we can further grow and continue to do innovative educational and research programs that will make a difference in the future.”

And the future can be a little scary. Financial systems, critical infrastructure, social networks, international trade, and even personal data can be subject to malicious attacks, ransomware, and other criminal and espionage activities. It is a constant fight of “good versus evil.”

“Any kind of information that we’re storing digitally, unfortunately, is at risk and we have to be prepared for a world in which that information is compromised,” Moore explained.

Unlimited demand

Moore says the need for cyber security “good” – unsung heroes working to tip the balance away from the aggregations of nation-state actors, cybercriminals, hackers, industrial spies, hacktivists, and cyber terrorists – is so great that practically any student in the cyber studies school is assured employment when they graduate. It’s an exciting, important time to energize the TU program.

Moore is a perfect example of the kind of home-grown talent that TU is contributing to the cyber world and information technology. A native of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, he graduated from TU in 2004 with bachelor’s degrees in computer science and applied mathematics. A Marshall Scholar, he earned his doctorate at the University of Cambridge. Prior to joining TU faculty, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Research on Computation and Society at Harvard University, the Hess Visiting Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Wellesley College, and an assistant professor at Southern Methodist University.

He is a widely published author and public speaker focusing on security economics, cyber crime measurement, and cyber security policy. He is also a founding editor-in-chief of the Journal of Cybersecurity, an interdisciplinary journal published by Oxford University Press.

Moore is quick to point out that TU’s current status is a product of previous programs. He acknowledges the role of faculty across The University of Tulsa, but especially within the College of Engineering & Computer Science, in inspiring him to address the most pressing cyber issues. His particular expertise is on cyber security, but he is advancing that cyber is much broader than secure information technology and technical best practices. It is about holistic approaches to how systems and people interact. The interdisciplinary nature of the program is not just computer sciences; it is also about human and organizational systems. Medical devices, for example, need to be safe and secure for sure, but they also must address big-picture privacy and ethical concerns. Oil exploration and petroleum technologies, too, have unique challenges today’s curriculum must address.

Person standing and speaking“Much of the challenge we face is technical in nature, and it’s going to require collaborations with those from computer science and engineering, alongside the psychologists and the economists,” Moore said.

Courses in the new bachelor’s of science degree are designed to be hands-on and project-based, emphasizing experiential learning and partnerships with employers. The new doctoral program offered in the School of Cyber Studies is intended to foster research at the interface between traditional disciplines with cyber serving as the bridge.

“We have faculty who are computer scientists, but also engineers, people from business, law, social sciences,” said Moore. “Everyone who has something to say about cyber comes together and will conduct research and teach courses.”

Building a cyber pipeline

In addition to creating stars in academia like Moore, the TU computer science and cyber studies programs have provided talent to some of the biggest tech companies in private industry, as well as government and defense agencies. Industry collaboration and advisory board representation from Tulsa-area tech companies can help keep talent from moving elsewhere after graduation, Moore said.

Moore knows the program has to continually adapt, too. Technology moves so quickly, the curriculum has to continually evolve.

“We’re providing a foundation for our students so they learn to use the tools of today, but they also learn concepts that are foundational and don’t change, and they’re essentially prepared for when they go into the workforce,” he said.

Creating a pipeline of graduates to go out and solve big cyber challenges is great, but one of the more important innovations with the new school is creating new pipelines into the program. To that end, TU has partnered with Will Rogers College Middle and High School near campus to codevelop a cyber security and computing curriculum serving more than 100 teens. If they matriculate to TU, they can even earn college credits.

“These students get to learn foundations of computing and foundations of cyber security courses, and the opportunity seems to be pretty popular,” said Moore.

The promise to transform the university to meet tomorrow’s workforce demands is well underway, and Moore believes TU is uniquely positioned – geographically and strategically – to create the next generation of cyber thinkers.

“Sky’s the limit to how much we can grow,” he exclaimed. “Because as many students as we can bring into our program, as many graduates as we can produce, we’re not going to have any trouble finding job placement for them. The need is everywhere.”