MIDWEST CITY -- Joyce Schwartz worked in retail and other hourly jobs for 30 years before deciding it was time to try for a college degree.
She didn't know much about computers, only what she needed for her job. But despite her lack of expertise, Schwartz thought she'd try her hand at cyber security.
Three years later, she is getting ready to graduate from Rose State and working at a securities consulting firm. After graduating, she hopes to go to work for Chesapeake, Boeing or Tinker Air Force Base.
The CIA, IRS and FBI are looking to hire cyber security graduates, and they all recruit at the Midwest City community college.
Rose State offers all six levels of federal cyber securities certification with most students earning those levels in two years. It has also been recognized by the National Security Agency as a “center for excellence in cyber security,” according to a news release.
The program began in 2004 and has been sending graduates across the country ever since to work in government security jobs and for some of the largest corporations in the state and country.
“I always tell students, as long as you don't have background issues, you'll have no problem getting a job,” said Ken Dewey, director of the program.
The cyber security industry has been budding for years, and the demand for people with skills in this area has never been greater, with President Barack Obama calling for the government to ramp up its security efforts in Tuesday's State of the Union address.
The Washington Post recently reported that the Pentagon is increasing its cyber division from 900 to 4,900 employees in an attempt to limit the risk of cyber attacks from foreign enemies.
Dewey said the program at Rose State is as full as it has ever been and is in the middle of an expansion to keep up with students and technology.
Some classes that were offered only once a year are now held every semester, and students will soon be able to complete their degrees entirely online.
Students who want to continue beyond Rose State can seek a bachelor's degree at Oklahoma State University. The University of Tulsa has a master's program in the field.
“One thing about our program is it's always changing,” Dewey said. “We're getting into mobile device security, cloud computing. There are always changes, which is good.”
But even though the program deals with an ever-changing industry, Schwartz said it doesn't take a computer expert to excel at Rose State. Professors start at the beginning, she said, and work with students through the more complicated classes.
“You don't have to have prior knowledge,” she said. “You can do it even if you know only basic programs.”
Schwartz said her image of the classes being filled with young male computer geeks was shattered the first day.
“It's a very diverse group,” she said. “A lot of people who are my age and are working in the field are coming back for more education; learning more for their jobs. And there are more women now. I thought this was a man's world.”
Schwartz has passed four levels of certification and will be getting her last two before she graduates in the spring.
Dewey said with the way the industry is progressing, it's likely the program will continue to get bigger in coming years.
“The demand is there to keep growing,” he said.