St. John’s M.S. in Cyber and Information Security Earns Key NSA Validation

Prospective students in Cybersecurity Lab
March 18, 2024

St. John’s University’s Master of Science (M.S.) degree program in Cyber and Information Security has received Program of Study validation from the National Security Agency (NSA), recognizing it among the industry’s most highly regarded advanced-degree programs.

Representatives of the NSA joined a committee of academic peers in recognizing the master’s program offered by The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies. Program of Study validation acknowledges the St. John’s program is helping to ensure a “highly skilled cybersecurity workforce that creates a strategic national advantage,” according to the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity (NCAE-C), which is managed by the NSA and oversees its educational programs.      

According to Cybercrime Magazine, more than 170 colleges or universities offered cybersecurity-related master’s degrees in 2023. Not all have earned Program of Study validation. St. John’s validation extends through the 2029 academic year and promises to enhance the professional prospects of University graduates entering a high-demand career field.

“For students interested in pursuing a master’s degree in Cyber and Information Security, validation offers assurance that the curriculum, facilities, and synergy between faculty and students meet the high standards of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the NSA,” said Erald Troja, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Division of Computer Science, Mathematics, and Science, and Acting Program Coordinator for the Cyber Security Systems program in the Collins College of Professional Studies.

“For faculty and administrators,” Dr. Troja continued, “it offers the opportunity to pursue well-funded research and service-related grant opportunities that are exclusively available to programs validated by DHS and NSA.”

The Program of Study validation is the culmination of a process that began before the first class of St. John’s graduate students enrolled in 2020. A minimum of three years of graduates was required before the University could apply. Courses needed to align with validation requirements, including a program-wide emphasis on community leadership in the field and demonstrated engagement in developing solutions to challenges in cybersecurity education. 

Once the first class of students graduated in May 2023, a team led by Joan E. DeBello, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Mathematics and Computer Science, and Chair, Division of Computer Science, Mathematics, and Science, and Luca Iandoli, Ph.D., Dean, the Collins College of Professional Studies, and Professor, Division of Computer Science, Mathematics, and Science, applied for approval.

Approval came from the NCAE-C in mid-February. 

“Having this designation puts St. John’s at a high standard for continually improving the curriculum and provides a competitive edge with peer institutions who may not have this validation,” Dr. DeBello said.

According to Suzanna Schmeelk, Ed.D., D.P.S., Assistant Professor of Cybersecurity, and Director, M.S. in Cyber and Information Security program, validation ensures the continued growth of the 30-credit M.S. in Cyber and Information Security program.  

“The future of this program is developing rapidly,” Dr. Schmeelk said. “Validation supports future initiatives, including international research and preparing students for strong cyber skill leadership in the industry, rooted in ethical and equitable values.”

Program of Study validation continues the University’s commitment to providing its cybersecurity students with state-of-the-art classroom and experiential-learning opportunities in an industry that is rapidly expanding. According to the information technology network Spiceworks, more than 2.7 million cybersecurity job vacancies existed globally in 2022.

St. John’s students in bachelor’s and master’s degree programs have access to the University’s Sanford Family Cyber Security Lab, where they can employ classroom-taught techniques for intrusion detection, vulnerability identification and mitigation, malware analysis, and more. The Sanford Family lab is the main conduit of St. John’s Center of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity Defense research.

Spiceworks recently ranked St. John’s among the top 10 of all cybersecurity colleges in the United States.

“The NSA designation is a key asset in our strategy to consolidate St. John’s leadership and reputation in cybersecurity,” Dean Iandoli said. “NSA designation attests that our graduate curriculum is based on the industry gold standard, defined through identifying critical knowledge and competencies. Such design ensures our students will be fully prepared to be technology leaders in this developing field.”