In this special report from the University of Tulsa, John Hale, the Chairperson of Computer Science, discusses the dynamics of working from home, the security risks, and the steps we can take to minimize them.
In this special report from the University of Tulsa, John Hale, the Chairperson of Computer Science, discusses the dynamics of working from home, the security risks, and the steps we can take to minimize them.
For many outsiders, The University of Tulsa’s computer simulation and gaming degree sounds like a lot of fun and a lot of play — after all, it has the word game in the its name.
In many cases, it comes as advertised: an exciting program that teaches students what they need to know before entering a world of simulation and gaming.
For Alvaro Gudiswitz, who graduated from TU in 2018 after studying both CSG and computer science, the world of simulation is giving him a chance to help save lives in the real world. It’s a serious job, but he’s having fun while doing it.
Gudiswitz, a St. Louis native, now works at Tulsa’s CymSTAR, a simulation-developer that works primarily with the United States government to develop simulations that can be used to train pilots and better prepare them for active duty.
In his second year with CymSTAR, Gudiswitz is learning the ropes and applying what he learned from his time at TU to the high-stakes job of simulation development.
“There are some similarities between creating simulations and video games,” he explained. “But the biggest difference is that simulations have a lot of moving parts. Based on the reactions of the training pilots, the simulations are programmed to physically respond to mimic flight. Things run in real-time.”
Gudiswitz has been interested in the idea of simulation development since early in his time at TU.
“It was my sophomore year when the CSG degree became an option,” he said. “And it’s a great program design because it pairs so nicely with computer science, which is what I started with and intended to pursue. I managed to do both, and they really helped prepare me for my job. Classes like game engines really translated well to what I’m doing now, as did networks.”
Recently, Gudiswitz has been helping with the flight simulator for a USAF C-5 Galaxy cargo plane and thoroughly enjoying the process.
“It’s a chance to poke around in different areas of coding,” he said. “And I enjoy all of it. Basically, this is a chance to use the practical applications of all the things I’ve learned in class. I get to travel some, do things I never imagined I’d find myself doing, and at the end of the day, we’re also helping people learn how to fly, which is the most important thing of all.”
Gudiswitz says that TU helped make this possible. The CymSTAR job came from networking — connections he’d made while on campus — and the development of the CSG program encouraging him to branch out and try new things.
While the CSG degree program might be a lot of fun, there’s also important applications, and graduates like Gudiswitz are using the knowledge from a digital world to keep people safe in reality.
The University of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s highest-ranked national university, is launching an online MBA and elevating its online master’s in cybersecurity with Noodle Partners, the fastest-growing online program manager.
Increasingly, adult learners are opting for programs that fit their busy lives. TU is working to improve the accessibility of their programs by meeting those students where they are — online.
The online MBA offers a part-time option to prepare students for career advancement in the private and public sectors as well as for positions of leadership and responsibility in business and society.
Cybersecurity is one of the fastest growing job sectors in the United States; the BLS projects a 32% increase in employment from 2018 to 2028, more than six times higher than the average for careers in the U.S. For 20 years, TU has been one of just a handful of institutions designated as a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance and Cyber Defense Education.
“The University of Tulsa is excited to leverage the resources and expertise of Noodle Partners to further develop these two online degree programs and meet the needs of students seeking a research university-level education outside of a traditional classroom setting,” said Interim President Janet Levit. “TU’s MBA and MS in Cybersecurity attract highly motivated working professionals who will use the degrees to advance their careers and support the nation’s thriving business and technology industries.”
TU’s online MBA program features readily available student access to top-notch faculty along with small class sizes that promote participation and interaction among peers and faculty in the online environment. The degree is ideal for online learners seeking a flexible schedule that allows them to balance work and other priorities. Students who enroll in two courses per semester can complete the program in 24 months and receive career placement assistance from the Business Career Center.
The online MS in Cybersecurity requires 30 credits to graduate. The program offers an entirely online curriculum, along with an option to take immersive courses in which students spend one week on campus completing hands-on, intensive training guided by faculty. The program is designed to be completed in 24 months, and students can continue to work as full-time professionals while completing the degree.
“TU is making an excellent strategic move by launching these innovative online programs,” said John Katzman, CEO of Noodle Partners. “We have total confidence in our partnership with TU, and we’re excited to see how its incoming cohorts of students leverage their degrees in the workforce.”
About Noodle Partners
Founded by a team of education and technology veterans, Noodle Partners creates innovative online and hybrid programs while improving traditional classroom models. Noodle Partners has the capability to work with universities on every aspect of building a certificate or degree program that they choose—marketing, student recruitment, enrollment, curriculum design, student engagement, support services, graduate placement, and alumni engagement—and provides a high level of fit and finish. For more information, visit noodle-partners.com or follow us on Twitter @Noodle_Partners or LinkedIn.
The University of Tulsa’s national reputation as a leader in computer science and cybersecurity education spans more than two decades, and in 2020, TU is poised to launch a new wave of opportunities that will benefit students, faculty, local educators and the entire cybersecurity industry.
Last year, TU introduced a cybersecurity conference unlike any other in the country. The Tulsa Cyber Summit welcomed students, executives, entrepreneurs and innovators for high-profile keynotes such as former CIA Director John Brennan, Facebook Security Director Aanchal Gupta and Team8 Founder and CEO Nadav Zafrir, as well as workshops and panel discussions with more than 40 leaders and executives in the cybersecurity industry.
Organizers are preparing for an even bigger conference March 22-24, 2020, at the Cox Convention Center in downtown Tulsa. The event will spotlight Tulsa’s emerging cyber industry and the valuable relationship TU holds with local and national cyber partners. Learn more about this year’s program and register to attend at utulsa.edu/cybercon.
“This year’s Cyber Summit is multi-focal,” said event organizer and Tandy School of Computer Science Chair John Hale. “We will continue the dual leadership and technology tracks, but also are incorporating a mini-track dedicated to cyber insurance, a thread of talks that will be of special relevance to small and medium-sized enterprises, and a panel on gender and diversity issues in the cyber workforce. In addition, we will welcome a group of national cyber experts as this year’s keynote speakers.”
Also new in 2020, TU is joining forces with the Tel Aviv, Israel-based cyber venture creation firm Team8 to establish the TU-Team8 Cyber Fellows program for doctoral students in the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences. The program is designed for students seeking to advance cyber R&D across security, big data and artificial intelligence, creating new methods and commercially viable solutions that enable a secure and productive all-digital future.
Funded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, the cyber fellowship program provides full financial support for 10 STEM-related doctoral degrees at TU to develop research projects that have the potential to fundamentally impact the world. Students receive free tuition, an annual living stipend/salary, TU graduate student benefits and a $20,000 bonus if they stay in Tulsa for at least two years after graduation.
TU’s rich history in cyber education and expertise combined with Team8’s ability to identify big problems and assemble the team, ecosystem and capital to drive a solution will prepare students with the cyber resilience and data science capabilities to enact a worldwide digital transformation.
The Ph.D. program officially begins in fall 2020. Students can apply by contacting Rose Gamble, Tandy Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, at email@example.com.
TU’s master of science in cybersecurity online degree has produced its first two graduates. Aaron Arneson, a U.S. Air Force civilian employee, and Jon Clemenson, director of information security at 10th Magnitude, graduated in December 2019 and will use their TU graduate degrees to advance their cybersecurity careers. The TU online program is designed for working professionals seeking to gain the skills and expertise necessary to thrive in the growing cyber field. The curriculum can be completed in 24 months, and students can continue to work as full-time professionals while completing their degree.
To apply to the program or for more details, contact Randy Roberts, program business manager, at 918-631-6523 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Just announced, TU will debut the multi-year CyberCity program in the summer of 2020 to infuse cyber education into every school and eventually every classroom in the Tulsa metropolitan area. The initiative will energize a generation of students to transform the city and its economy.
CyberCity also is sponsored by the George Kaiser Family Foundation and will be led by Sujeet Shenoi, professor of computer science and chemical engineering and founder of TU’s Cyber Corps, along with Kimberly Adams, Chapman Senior Instructor of Mathematics. Four week-long workshops will be held in June and July for elementary and middle school teachers. Enrollment in each week’s workshop will cap at 36. Groups of teachers from Tulsa-area schools are encouraged to participate in a workshop to create critical mass, foster collaborative efforts during the academic year and add cyber curricula and activities to their schools.
Workshop topics will include cybersecurity concepts and best practices, online safety, cyber ethics, computer gaming, the Internet of Things, robot and drone programming as well as the critical infrastructure, cryptography and coding involved in Python programming language. Each teacher will receive a $600 stipend, Raspberry Pi with a keyboard and mouse, flash drive with instructional materials, lockbox kit and the book “Cracking Codes with Python: An Introduction to Building and Breaking Cyphers.”
“We envision enabling a generation of cyber-savvy ‘tinkerers’ and innovators capable of changing the city’s economic base,” Shenoi said. “This is something we should do if we want to change our city.”
TU will support teachers throughout the school year with an interactive web platform to share ideas and ask questions, creating an online community that fosters collaboration in developing lesson plans and other learning materials.
For undergraduate and graduate cyber students, competitive events are an annual highlight of the academic year that demonstrate their talent, skillsets and potential as future professionals.
In the summer of 2019, TU students collaborated with Professor of Computer Science Sandip Sen to design, develop, implement, test and field an agent that could perform repeated negotiations with human partners to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. The agent, named Draft Agent based on the core negotiating protocol used, was entered into the Human-Agent League of the Tenth International Automated Negotiating Agents Competition at IJCAI 2019, Aug. 10-16, in Macao, China. One of TU’s two entries was named a finalist and later the official winner, receiving a cash prize of $250.
TU students finished second at the 2019 Central Region Collegiate Pen Testing Competition (CPTC) Oct. 12-13 at Tennessee Tech. The event focuses on improving the offensive security posture of a fictitious organization and reporting on risks in a manner that is similar to a real professional environment. Students participate as part of an in-house red team, a consulting firm providing penetration testing services or an information security analyst to hone the technical, communication and collaboration skills they will use as professionals.
On Nov. 11, a group of students participated in the south-central regional event for the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC). Both TU teams finished at or near the top of the Oklahoma rankings and in the top third of the 60 total teams that competed. Team Aleph Naught placed first in the state and #11 in the region, and team Turing Tested received third place in Oklahoma and #20 in the region.
Nov. 29-Dec. 1, the Tandy School of Computer Science virtually hosted the TU Capture the Flag (CTF) information security competition. Around 1,000 teams from around the globe participated in the community-oriented event that featured high school and collegiate brackets. Capture The information security competition requires teams to solve a series of challenges to prepare students for careers in digital security.
In 2020, TU students will attend the Information Security Talent Search Feb. 28-30 at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y. The event is an annual three-day cyber attack/defend competition, challenging students to solve scenarios in computing security, system administration, networking and programming. Competitors engage in code review, architecture design, incident response and policy writing while defending a student-built infrastructure.
One of the most anticipated student events of the year is the Southwest Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (CCDC) Regional, March 20-22. Hosted on TU’s campus, the regional CCDC event requires students to assume administrative and protective duties for an existing “commercial” network. The eight regional CCDC winners will compete in the national competition April 16-18.
Other upcoming events include the AI, Creativity and Copyright conference March 27 and an annual high-performance computing competition on TU’s campus in April. The AI symposium will involve a panel discussion on the complicated idea of who owns copyright to the music an artificial intelligence system generates. This is complicated by the fact that machines cannot currently generate or own copyrights under U.S. law. The discussion will be followed by a hackathon in which student programmers create AI-driven music pieces. The event will conclude with a talk by one of the lead AI experts at Pandora music.
TU will launch a new multi-year CyberCity program in the summer of 2020 to infuse cyber education into every school and eventually every classroom in the Tulsa metropolitan area, energizing a generation of students to transform the city and its economy.
During the first year of the CyberCity Initiative, TU will host up to four teacher workshops to impart cyber and cybersecurity concepts through hands-on activities designed for middle and elementary school classes. The activities will include projects, games and competitions, as well as content-creation lessons in classroom settings.
With financial support from the George Kaiser Family Foundation, TU’s Sujeet Shenoi, professor of computer science and chemical engineering and founder of TU’s famed Cyber Corps, along with Kimberly Adams, Chapman Senior Instructor of Mathematics, will hold four weeklong workshops in June and July 2020 — two for elementary school teachers and two for middle school teachers. Enrollment in each workshop will cap at 36 teachers. Groups of two to four teachers from Tulsa-area schools are encouraged to participate in a workshop to create critical mass, foster collaborative efforts during the academic year and add cyber curricula and activities to their schools.
The summer teacher workshops will cover cybersecurity concepts and best practices, online safety, cyber ethics, computer gaming, the Internet of Things, robot and drone programming as well as the critical infrastructure, cryptography and coding involved in the Python programming language. Each teacher will receive a $600 stipend, Raspberry PI with a keyboard and mouse, flash drive with instructional materials, lockbox kit and the book “Cracking Codes with Python: An Introduction to Building and Breaking Cyphers.”
“We envision enabling a generation of cyber-savvy “tinkerers” and innovators capable of changing the city’s economic base,” Shenoi said. “This is something we should do if we want to change our city.”
Beyond the summer series, TU will support teachers throughout the school year by providing an interactive web platform to share ideas and ask questions, creating an online community that fosters collaboration in developing lesson plans and other learning materials.
Expected in the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021, TU will offer mini-camps for the trained teachers to share ideas and best practices and explore lesson planning ideas. The camps will enable teachers to network with each other and other cyber experts to enhance their skills and increase their exposure to new technologies. Each teacher will receive a $100 stipend for participating in the mini-camps, and substitute teachers for a mini-camp attendee will receive $70. Mini-camp participants will be required to submit papers that reflect their cyber training and describe how they are implementing cyber curricula into their classrooms.
The sky is the limit when you’ve got a TU degree in computer science or cybersecurity. Between the two of them, alumni Gavin Manes (B.S. ’01, M.S. ’02, Ph.D. ’04) and Lance Watson (B.S. ’96, M.S. ’03) have earned five degrees from the Tandy School of Computer Science, and their flair for entrepreneurial ventures grows with each new idea. Among the several businesses they have established, their digital forensic and e-discovery firm, Avansic, has a national reputation for private investigative work.
When Manes founded Avansic in 2004, the legal world had not yet embraced the concept of digital forensics. In hindsight, Watson said the firm was ahead of its time — especially in Oklahoma, where he and Manes spent much of their time providing educational outreach to prospective clients. “For the first five years of the business, paychecks were thin,” Watson explained. “We had to educate people about what they wanted, what they could get from our company and then, ultimately, why they needed our help.”
Despite resistance from some corners of the legal profession, Avansic did its legwork and created an initiative to inform clients about how they could use and benefit from digital forensic services. “Computer forensics is the act of investigating what happened on a computer to explain a story,” Manes said. “With e-discovery, you’re facilitating a group of lawyers to review the content from that computer to prove something to help you in court.”
Both tactics are based on the same function of evidence processing and preservation. Digital forensics examines how a document was placed on a computer, who looked at it, who opened it, who copied it, etc., while e-discovery looks at what’s stated in the email or Word document. “Early on, we were just doing digital forensics because e-discovery didn’t exist yet,” Gavin explained. “At least 70 percent of our business was outside of the state.”
Avansic’s primary customers are law firms who represent an individual or corporation. Much of the work involves cell phone forensics for family matters or family court cases. Avansic private investigators can perform a service known as “turn and burn” where they retrieve information on a child’s phone and hand it over directly to the parents. Other expert witness work focuses on interpreting mobility user reports using cell site locations. Most of Avansic’s cases are civil in nature, but Manes said the company will take on a criminal case in special circumstances. “We’re like Dog the Bounty Hunter, but we’re nerds,” he said with a grin.
By 2015, the climate of digital forensics had advanced to the point that clients began to contact Avansic with specific requests. The company’s computer scientists and IT specialists are a special breed who can crack the case while communicating effectively with lawyers and other clients. In one instance, Watson’s digital forensic testimony led to the release of a prison inmate after his research determined the person had been incarcerated on the premise of a misinterpretation of data. “Sitting on a stand, talking to a judge or jury, you have to be relatable and convincing,” Manes said.
From a closet office where four employees shared the same workspace, Avansic has grown into its current offices in downtown Tulsa. The firm’s success during the past couple of years could be replicated in other cities around the country that are known for their startup and tech industries, but Manes and Watson say there are benefits to keeping home base in Tulsa. “We’ve got more fiber than practically anyone in the United States, and office space is affordable,” Watson said. “It’s not hard to find qualified people to work for us here. The state is training a lot of people at various levels but with skills we can use.”
Manes reiterated that it can be difficult to stop Oklahoma’s current “brain drain,” but opportunity lies in the additional hiring of cybersecurity and digital forensic specialists at corporations, in-house. “There’s a lot of energy and desire to build entrepreneurship in the city of Tulsa, it’s just a matter of how we get it done,” he said.
TU’s degree programs in the Tandy School of Computer Science aim to prepare students for exciting careers while preventing them from leaving the state. Watson grew up in the Tulsa area and attended TU as a nontraditional student while working full time. He received a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a master’s in cybersecurity thanks in part to supportive faculty such as Dale Schoenefeld and the late Travis Tull. “I have a deep appreciation for the professors I worked with there,” he said. “Dale Schoenefeld did so much for me and my wife. I cannot thank him enough for all he did for us.”
Manes, from Dallas, came to Tulsa for his bachelor’s degree in computer science and never left. As an undergraduate, he worked on robotics projects with Professor Gerry Kane, sang in the men’s chorale group, filed a patent with fellow student (now Tandy School of Computer Science chairman) John Hale and took one of his favorite courses, genetic algorithms, from Professor Roger Wainwright. While earning his master’s and Ph.D., he helped established the Computer Information Security group, which later became known as the Institute for Information Security (iSEC) and led the effort to match TU computer science students with Tulsa law enforcement to solve cybercrime cases — an initiative that is still active today. “We paired young students who knew everything about computers and technology with law enforcement officers,” Manes said. “The officer learns everything about computers, and the student learns everything about humans and interacting with people.”
Manes and Watson remain involved at their alma mater through the occasional lecture or Q&A session with students. Manes is the scheduled keynote for the Collins College of Business Friends of Finance speaker series in January. Whether meeting with clients or answering questions from students, both alumni tout the benefits of a computer science degree from TU. “The world’s your oyster if you’ve got that degree,” Watson said. “When we talk to seniors, we explain it’s not a matter of what you can do in computer science but what can’t you do — the possibilities are endless. Our skills apply to data, programming, computer operations in every industry these days.”
“Computer science is one of those things that once you learn it, you can teach it forever,” Manes explained. “There were a lot of opportunities for me to do interesting things as a student, and I don’t think that’s changed at TU.”
Internships are the most realistic way to introduce students to a professional career environment in computer science. When college students are unsure of what area(s) to pursue in their discipline, an internship can provide insight and direction. Bonus: It doesn’t hurt that internships are key opportunities to network with professionals and scope out the job market.
Meaghan Longenberger, a computer science major from Hickory Creek, Texas, completed an internship in the IBM X-Force Red unit in Austin, Texas. Tabor Kvasnicka, a computer simulation and gaming student from Enid, Oklahoma, also interned at IBM in Austin earlier this year. Both students gained valuable exposure to the many different options a cybersecurity career offers.
Longenberger’s internship involved shadowing projects underway with IBM Red team communications, writing a proposal for what kind of research she wanted to conduct at IBM, presenting her research and participating in an eight-week bootcamp that covered all areas of the cybersecurity industry.
“I got experience explaining, ‘here’s what I did and here are the results’ in front of executives,” she said. “It was good practice speaking in front of people and trying to explain technical details.”
The bootcamp involved an IBM specialist visiting the Austin lab each week to give presentations on cyber topics such as how to hack wi-fi, lock-picking and physical security, pen-testing, social engineering and more. “All of these experts who work there discussed the team’s internal processes,” Longenberger explained. “It was a brain dump, but so amazing to learn from all of these different people who have been in the industry for years.”
An interest in computers combined with her father’s background in electronics and her grandfather’s experience in electrical engineering led Longenberger to The University of Tulsa and the computer science major. During her TU career, she has conducted a Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC) project with Tyler Moore, Tandy Associate Professor of Cybersecurity and Information Assurance. “We did a lot of data scraping and analyzing how different cyberattacks would affect cryptocurrency and crypto-exchange marketplaces,” she said.
Working in a professional setting at IBM demonstrated Longenberger’s cybersecurity skills, and she said the connections made at IBM will benefit her career. “Interning is the closest to real-world work. I know I can always reach out to the people that I met at X-Force for advice on companies and work environments.”
Kvasnicka worked for in the chief information security office at IBM as part of the company’s security operations center. He served on the architect team and researched open source and internal solutions to a rising problem in containerized environments visibility. Tools exist for studying the visibility of traditional environments such as threat monitoring but fewer resources are available for monitoring environments that use Kubernetes, docker and other related technologies. “It was interesting to see a problem in the cybersecurity world that was a real-life problem for an international company like IBM with 300,000 employees,” Kvasnicka said.
His IBM internship complements the work Kvasnicka has done the past two summers at eLynx Technologies in Tulsa along with competitive learning opportunities as a TU team member at the Collegiate Cyber Defense, Capture the Flag and Collegiate Pen-Testing competitions. He is also a TU TokenEx Fellow who has received a cybersecurity scholarship from the Oklahoma-based data protection platform company TokenEx, founded by TU computer science alumni. “Dr. Hale’s lab prepared me for the IBM role because we worked with things like infrastructure and scaling,” Kvasnicka said. “I came to TU to learn how to make video games, but now that I’ve experienced what I could potentially do in the cybersecurity world, I’m strongly considering the field.”
A simple email or phone call is all it takes sometimes to help a student find an internship. John Hale, Tandy Professor of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, told Longenberger about IBM X-Force Red and encouraged her to apply. “I’ve been talking to friends who go to other colleges, and the fact that we have professors who will reach out and say, ‘hey, here’s this cool internship opportunity,’ is important,” she said. “I think that’s what TU is good at, especially in the computer science department.”
Hale said he receives calls frequently from TU alumni at corporations such as Amazon, IBM or Google who are searching for qualified interns. Career fairs and class presentations from company representatives also lead to fruitful internships. According to Hale, placing a student on the path to a successful career can be as easy as matching an alumni member with a current student. “It’s the idea of imprinting,” he said. “That first internship, they bond with alumni whether it involves writing code, developing software, managing systems, or data science and analytics. Those interactions don’t happen as often at larger schools.”
Computer science junior Max Johnson of Silver Spring, Maryland, discovered his Naval Surface Warfare Center internship at a TU career fair. He was advised to apply to military bases across the country and obtained a position at a location in his home state. Through the Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program, Johnson spent 10 weeks with seven other members of the software development team developing U.S. laser weapon control systems. “We looked at the processes in place for reporting laser weapon control activity,” he said. “It was a mix of development and implementation, a lot of fixing bugs and adding new features to software.”
The Naval Surface Warfare Center was Johnson’s most technical and favorite internship so far, and the developers he worked with suggested he consider returning to the team in the future. Currently, he is applying to TU’s computer science accelerated program to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years. Longer and Kvasnicka also are enrolled in the accelerated option to earn both degrees. “There’s so much to explore in computer science, and my classes offer ways to explore new topics. I wouldn’t mind developing for a few years,” Johnson said.
Longenberger and Kvasnicka also agree interning in a competitive industry environment is enticing for the careers that await. “I’d say it was a 10 out of 10 for my internship experience,” Kvasnicka said. “Now that I’ve seen a little more of the real world, I’m excited for what the future holds.”
Nathan Singleton (BS ’08, MS ’10) has blazed his own trail to success first as a veteran, then a University of Tulsa student and now as a cybersecurity professional. He was the first full-time cybersecurity employee at a Tulsa-based drilling and technology company. Starting with zero budget and staff almost five years ago, Singleton has developed a ten-member cybersecurity team with a multi-million-dollar budget. “We get to interface with all levels of the organization, from the guys on the rigs to those in the mailroom and up to the executive leadership team,” he said.
His ability to think independently and relate to different fields outside of the cybersecurity discipline are skills he developed as an undergraduate and graduate student at TU. In the ever-changing environment of digital security, Singleton said professionals must be open to continuous learning and different ideas. “There are a lot of bad actors out there that are spending as much money or more than we are in the industry to figure out new ways to get beyond our security measures and protocols,” he said.
“Cybersecurity is always marching forward. It is very fast-paced and going through an education program that is set up in a very similar manner helps prepare you for that.”
Originally from Houston, Singleton attended high school in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and joined the military after graduation. He worked 10 years as an electronics technician on submarines in the U.S. Navy, and as his time on active duty drew to a close, he visited Tulsa where a friend told him about TU. He discovered the opportunities that awaited him if he pursued a computer science degree with a focus on cybersecurity. After studying a couple of semesters at Tulsa Community College, Singleton enrolled at TU as a 28-year-old transfer student. Key staff members in the TU Veterans Student Success Center, such as Cindy Watts, helped him coordinate his Department of Veteran’s Affair Vocational Rehabilitation funding. His seamless transition to a four-year university was enhanced by fellow student veterans on campus from all branches of the military.
“It’s a very welcoming vet-friendly environment, and those are relationships that are probably going to carry me through the rest of my life,” Singleton said.
He immediately got involved in research, publishing papers, representing the university at conferences in Japan and Poland and completing internships with local businesses and federal agencies. “My overall experience was amazing,” Singleton said. “I think research at such an early stage of my educational career was what drove me further and further. Because I was former military and because I was older, I had the opportunity to lead research projects that prepared me to manage a cybersecurity department at a multi-national company.”
Research, internships, direct interaction with professors and the tight-knit dynamic of TU’s computer science and cybersecurity programs convinced Singleton he’d made the right college decision. Following his bachelor’s degree, he stayed at TU and earned a master’s in computer science, which opened up a whole new world of cyber scenarios and research leadership opportunities. TU’s reputation as a cyber education center set him on track with a career at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Southwest Power Administration where hydroelectric power from U.S. Army Corps of Engineer dams is linked to preference customers in cooperatives and military bases. As the security program manager, Singleton was responsible for the protection and security of the agency’s dams and infrastructure in four states as well as other facilities, substations and power lines that interface directly with the U.S. Army. He rebuilt the physical security program to respond to floods, natural disasters and pandemics. Singleton also oversaw counterintelligence and counterterrorism projects and eventually led the agency’s cybersecurity team.
Three years later, he began to look for a new challenge and was contacted by H&P in Tulsa. He has developed the company’s cybersecurity team from the ground up and manages all incident response activities and system reviews. The department’s roles also have expanded to providing security awareness and training, governance, risk analysis and compliance.
“TU taught me how to think outside the box, solve problems and succeed in the government and at H&P,” he said.
After his work experience in the government, he had planned to look for jobs in Washington, D.C., on the West Coast or overseas, but family ties and the prospect of entrepreneurial cyber growth pulled him back to Tulsa. He believes that with more investment from local organizations interested in building out the city’s cyber infrastructure and capabilities, companies will find Tulsa an inviting city with a low cost of living. “As the word spreads and more opportunities arise here in Tulsa, I think we’ll see how it’s a great location for a startup,” Singleton said. “It’s about attracting the minds, giving them what they need to make that initial, first shaky step and then watching them launch.”
As University of Tulsa alumni, John and Crystal Lister are exploring the exciting career possibilities that a degree from the TU Tandy School of Computer Science provides. The husband and wife are members of the senior leadership team at Global Professional Services Group (GPSG) in Reston, Virginia. Although GPSG is primarily a recruiting company, John and Crystal implement their cyber capabilities to grow the enterprise and flex their cyber muscles in the digital security sector. They trace the expertise and skillset required to accomplish such a task back to Tulsa and their experience with cybersecurity projects at TU.
The Listers first met while taking courses at Tulsa Community College and later married as undergraduate students at the University of Oklahoma. John was recruited to the TU Cyber Corps program, turning down a job in Australia, to begin his master’s degree. Crystal’s background in business and finance initially led her to a job at Boeing Co., where she also became interested in Cyber Corps.
“I started reflecting on how I could give back to my country — I was in the eighth grade at the time of the 1995 Oklahoma City Murrah Building bombing, and I was an undergrad during 9/11,” Crystal said.
Both Crystal and John taught computer classes at Moore Norman Technology Center to support themselves as undergraduates at OU. Their patriotism combined with a natural passion for understanding the intersection of the human element and technology led them to TU. They completed master of science degrees in computer science and fulfilled the Cyber Corps professional segment with federal service.
“It was a fantastic opportunity to use the brand-new skills TU had just developed to help the government safeguard assets for the American people and to strengthen operations to better defend the country,” John said about his federal service as a cyber officer.
For more than 10 years, Crystal also served in cyber threats and counterintelligence, informing senior policymakers about technical risks to infrastructure and operations.
“I was able to use a lot of the background from OU and TU blended together to provide insights on technical threats,” Crystal said. “My time here at TU instantly equipped me to hit the ground running and start making that contribution to our country.”
The couple leverages their computer science and business backgrounds in the private sector today. John, vice president of cyber capabilities, and Crystal, senior director, insider and cyber threats, are instrumental in helping GPSG clients understand cybersecurity vulnerabilities and develop custom security programs.
Crystal oversees GPSG’s internal insider threat risk management program and engages with executive clients on cybersecurity consulting, developing methodologies to help clients move securely to Cloud solutions, protect data and set up insider risk programs. Her team has created an interactive scenarios training curriculum on prevention, detection and response of insider threats for clients.
Crystal says TU courses such as digital forensics prepared her for the career she’s built today. “I loved everything about it,” she said. “It helped me become a leader later, managing targeting, technical digital media exploitation teams and looking for key insights to support our policymakers.”
John said their student experience in Cyber Corps involved incredibly unique partnerships with public service organizations such as the Tulsa Police Department and federal units. They contributed to solving criminal cases, analyzing cell phone forensics and other critical operations. Those hands-on components laid the groundwork for successful ventures later in their careers.
“The opportunities we had here at TU to collaborate with the technical community helped us become leaders in the cyber industry,” he said.