The clock is ticking.
Hackers have infiltrated the company’s computer network.
The business’s information technology team isn’t up to the job, so an outside team is brought in. Its job is to secure the network and defend it against the hackers, while keeping the network up and running.
It’s a big job, but Baldwin Wallace University cyber security students are up to the task.
These are the scenarios that play out in competitions for BW’s Cyber Defense Team. Team members come from the university’s computer and network security program, which, like the school’s other science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs, has flourished in recent years.
Fueled by strong demand in the workforce, these departments have added new programs and attracted growing numbers of students. Professors say more employers are seeking graduates of their programs than there are students. As BW has risen to meet this need, it has sought to open up opportunities to populations underrepresented in STEM fields: women and minorities. The university touts its diverse STEM faculty and is working to make its programs more diverse, too.
“The college itself has made great strides in providing access to people who have not had access to higher education,” says Kenneth Atchinson, associate computer science professor.
In the mid-2000s, BW’s computer science department, still feeling the impact of the dot-com bust, hit a low point: Only about 75 students were majoring in computer science programs. Beginning around 2005, the department began to add new majors. Along with computer science and computer information systems, students could major in digital media, computer and network security or software engineering. A rebound began about a decade ago, and, in the last few years, the department’s enrollment has tripled. Now, there are more than 220 undergraduate student majors.
About 25 percent of them are in the cyber security program. “Our number of students has increased in the program, as well as the job placement of students,” Atchinson says. “So, if a student wants an internship or a job in the field, they should have it.”
Changes in the workforce have led to changes in the mathematics department, too. The department added an applied math program for students who plan to start their careers after graduation rather than go to graduate school.
“Everyone always assumes, if you get a math degree, you’re going to teach or go to grad school,” says Brent Strunk, mathematics department chairman. In recent years, however, the trend has reversed — more students are getting jobs right after graduation. “We like to see our graduates gainfully employed, so we wanted to support our students who were going to the workforce.”
Where graduates with mathematics degrees end up might come as a surprise, he adds. A speaker series in which the department invites alumni back to talk about their careers has featured math majors who now work in operations research, data analysis and finance, and who own their own businesses. “What employers find is that a student with a math degree is capable of learning any other skills they would need on a job site,” Strunk says.
BW's first engineering students arrived in fall 2017. The university got approval to start a Bachelor of Science in engineering degree. A university announcement cites a report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers: a whopping 71 percent of employers reported plans to hire positions in engineering.
As these changes have taken place, BW has looked to increase the number of women and other underrepresented groups in its STEM programs. An example has been set among faculty. In computer science, there are three female faculty members, one African-American male and three white males. In mathematics, the department has five full-time faculty members who are female, three who are male, and will soon have another female professor. It’s notable in a field where the male-female ratio is generally tipped the opposite way.
Encouraging girls and women to pursue careers in computer science is a priority for Jodi Tims, computer science department chairwoman and chair of the Association for Computing Machinery’s Council on Women in Computing. She notes efforts such as offering more broadly appealing programs — less emphasis on technical skill in entry-level courses, for example, and greater opportunities in the digital arts. Tims recently brought an ACM chapter to BW, and hopes to use it to reach out to younger girls and support the female students who are part of it.
BW faculty members say these efforts are important because it exposes women and minorities to STEM programs, which they need to get them to the top tiers of STEM fields.
And, most people use technology — so technology should reflect that. “Those are the people that are building the software that we use every day, and it would be nice if we had a more representative population of software engineers building stuff for the rest of us,” Tims says.
“Lastly,” she adds, “I think it’s a matter of my own general feeling that this is not a field that should be only for white males that come out of middle-
or high-income” backgrounds.
People entering the workforce with STEM degrees find plentiful opportunities for well-paying jobs — and Baldwin Wallace wants to make sure those
opportunities are available to all.