New name emphasizes cybersecurity in ECU’s ICT program

The Information and Computer Technology program at East Carolina University is getting a new name that more accurately reflects the importance and relevance of cybersecurity in its concentrations.

The new name, Information and Cybersecurity Technology (ICT), is designed to draw more attention and employment opportunities for students in cybersecurity, a field with projected job growth seven times the national average over the next decade.

ECU students work in the networking lab in the Science and Technology Building. A networking concentration is part of the information and cybersecurity technology degree program. (Photo by Rhett Butler)

“We updated the program and updated the concentrations and decided to go ahead and update the name,” said Dr. Page Varnell, teaching assistant professor in the Department of Technology Systems in the College of Engineering and Technology. “We changed it because some people weren’t sure what our program was. Now, we think this has made it clearer.”

Varnell points out that cybersecurity, one of three concentration options within ICT, is in high demand.

“The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the growth area in cybersecurity at 35%, with the average salary at $102,600 with a bachelor’s degree and less than five years of experience,” she said. “From October of 2021 to September of 2022, there were more than 41,000 jobs posted in our region related to cybersecurity. So there’s a demand, a huge demand, and if that $102,600 salary doesn’t motivate students, I don’t know what will.”

Varnell said the ICT program is updated regularly to meet industry needs, with new course offerings in cybersecurity that include ethical hacking, intrusion detection and digital forensics. This spring, the National Security Agency redesignated ECU’s cybersecurity program as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (NCAE-CD), a designation the university has had since 2005.

But cybersecurity is only part of the program. ICT includes concentrations in networking as well as cloud technologies, both of which include a dose of cybersecurity. The program includes internship opportunities and capstone projects in which students work in the field with industry professionals. Students have opportunities to work and get experience with companies like Cisco and with the National Security Agency.

ICT is also a concentration in the Bachelor of Science in Industrial Technology (BSIT) program and can be taken as a minor regardless of major.

Many of the courses tie into national certifications such as Security+ and Cisco Certified Network Associate that help students launch their careers.

Varnell said ICT graduates can gain employment as cybersecurity analysts, network administrators, system administrators, cloud engineers, main frame specialists and information technology (IT) project managers, just to name a few.

“They all pay very well,” Varnell said.

The Cybersecurity Analysis and Action Center allows students to simulate cyber attacks. (Photo by Ken Buday)

Matthew Redden graduated from ECU in 2020 with a BSIT degree with a concentration in ICT. He is an IT engineer and product analyst for ASRC Federal in Orange County, California, where he is part of a team that supports the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“I’m assisting with standing up our help desk, documentation, client support, data analysis, bug remediation and training,” he said.

Redden said ECU’s ICT program exposed him to real-world situations, provided thought-provoking questions and allowed him to work as part of a team.

“Although the ICT program teaches great technical skills like programming, networking, and hardware and software troubleshooting, it helps breed good communication and being able to see problems and solutions from different angles,” he said. “This industry thrives on individuals who can do both.”

He said the importance of communication was his biggest lesson at ECU.

“Words are powerful. Communication can make or break a team,” Redden said. “Even in a world of ones and zeros, words reign supreme.”

He said the program’s new name is just another example of its success.

“ECU and the ICT program have a knack for being innovative and on the leading edge,” Redden said. “I see cybersecurity everywhere, and it’s the job in demand — not to mention one of the skills most needed in our technological world.”

Jacob Shelton agrees. The senior from Elkview, West Virginia, is an ICT major with a concentration in cybersecurity.

“What I enjoy most out of the ICT program are the relationships and friendships I’ve made along the way as well as the networking foundation it helped create, whether that be with other professors or other graduates and students,” he said.

Shelton particularly credited Varnell for being a mentor and allowing him to be her intern.

“This internship has been a great learning experience, and I have grown as someone in the IT field because of it,” he said.

He said the responsibility and time-management skills he learned in the program will set him up for a successful career and for success in life.

“Overall, it’s been a great experience,” Shelton said. “ICT offers a different way of learning in comparison to the traditional classes of quizzes and exams. Even though I still had plenty of those to take, a large portion of grades in some classes were done through labs and other hands-on activities. This is where I felt like I had the most fun and learned the most. Being able to be hands on and engaged in a virtual environment for labs made scenarios feel more real and enjoyable.”

Students work on a project in the networking lab in the Science and Technology Building. (Photo by Ken Buday)