The National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security recognized Oklahoma Christian University as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education.
David North, program chair for computer science, and Curtis Coleman, director of cybersecurity, worked for three years building the program to reach the national agency’s standards. All the required material was submitted in December 2020, and the final review was in September 2021.
Only four universities in Oklahoma have the national designation. Two of them are community colleges and the other four-year school is Tulsa University.
Coleman said when he came to Oklahoma Christian, he already had the recognition in mind before starting the cybersecurity program.
“I got a goal done,” Coleman said. “In the first three years I wanted to have national recognition for our cyber center, and so I was told ‘you can’t do it in three years, that is not heard of.’ But the requirement said, if you had a three-year-old program that is mature, people are graduating, then you can apply for the designation as a national center.”
Coleman said as the head of the project to start the cybersecurity program at Oklahoma Christian, he used the national standards to know how to build the program.
“Reverse engineering is what we call it: when you know something has already been built, can you reverse it back to its small components? That’s what I did,” Coleman said. “I went out to the national level and saw what they did.”
North said the process to get the designation was long, and they sent over a hundred documents to finally get the recognition.
“We had to answer all of their questions about our program: our academic program, security on campus, how others are dealing with cybersecurity and privacy issues,” North said.
North said the designation is difficult to get, especially after the national agencies upped their requirements for 2021.
“They have redone their certification programs and we were the very first to go through their new, tougher certification,” North said.
Junior Nathan Lalli said Oklahoma Christian is standing out because of hard work in recruiting both students and professors.
“They go to as many schools and churches as possible and they make sure the professors are the best of the best,” Lalli said. “I have also never seen a school that hosts so many cool events that are then free for the students to go to so that they can both learn and have fun.”
Lalli said it is great to attend a university recognized at the national level.
“It is amazing to get recognition for the hard work that we do at the university and as students, especially when it is from the highest level of accreditation,” Lalli said. “It makes me feel like we are able to make a difference in the world because of the opportunities that OC is giving us, and it lets us as students know that OC really cares about bettering the university for us.”
North said the designation gives confirmation of the quality of the cybersecurity program, but it is also a benefit financially.
“It gives us access to grants,” North said. “We got funding to offer our students scholarships because we have this designation, and we will be able to get grants for research as well.”
Lalli said Oklahoma Christian has prepared him for the real world.
“All of the learning we do is hands-on learning and by people that have actually been in the computer science field before teaching at OC,” Lalli said.
The designation coincidently came in October, which is cybersecurity awareness month. North said there will be weekly announcements sent out to students during this month regarding cybersecurity.
“During this month, we’ll be doing more things you can do to help yourself be safe,” North said. “We are hopefully communicating some things that will be helpful to people as we try to raise awareness of those issues in our campus community as well.”
More information on Oklahoma Christian’s cyber center here: oc.edu/cyber-center.