Starting next fall, a new way to earn a degree in cybersecurity and other technology-focused STEM fields will be available to graduates of Tulsa Community College and other associate degree programs. The best part? It will be right here in Tulsa.
The University of Oklahoma-Tulsa’s new Polytechnic Institute (OUPI) will collaborate with TCC to meet students where they are, help them get degrees, and ultimately prepare them to enter the workforce.
Dr. Travis White, dean of TCC’s School of Business and Information Technology, is very pleased about the new opportunity for students. “To have [the Polytechnic Institute] in town is just an asset. I think [it is] quite an addition not just to the higher education space, but also to the community,” White said.
From OU, the Polytechnic Institute’s director, Dr. Teri Reed, has a long and storied history with the university. She got her bachelor’s degree there (in petroleum engineering), then returned as a professor after working in the petroleum field for a while and receiving her Ph.D. in quality engineering. After working at several other universities, Reed is now back at OU for the third time, to be the first director of the Polytechnic Institute at the OU-Tulsa Schusterman campus.
What does a polytechnic institute do? For one example to answer the question, according to the website for Florida’s Polytechnic University, a college that is polytechnic, “focuses on providing hands-on, practical, and applied education in STEM fields.” This means that students will be preparing to work in the real world by solving real-world problems and doing things the way they will in a job in the tech industry.
The OUPI’s first program, which begins in the fall of 2024, will be a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity. It will be a 60-hour program, intended to take about two years to complete. This makes it ideal for students transferring from TCC with an associate degree into the OUPI’s program.
Some of the classes for this degree will include Foundations of Cybersecurity, Cyber-Forensics, Introduction to Cyber Ethics and Law, Cryptography, and Applied Statistics, which Reed herself will teach.
At the end of the program, students will have a Cyber Capstone. It is a semester-long project, where they will work to solve a community-based problem. This project will be the students’ culminating experience of trying to pull together everything they have learned into a project before entering the workforce.
The problems students will solve in the Cyber Capstone project will be determined through discussion with industry partners. The Polytechnic Institute will work with advisory boards representing various industries to make sure that students are prepared to work with real-world, imperfect data.
The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education approved the OUPI’s bachelor’s degree in science in cybersecurity program in May. Admissions are open now. Students can apply for the first classes at the Polytechnic Institute here.
The Institute’s goal is to have at least 50 students in the first class. “We start classes in August of 2024, and then we hope to have our first graduates in May of ’26,” Reed said.
The Polytechnic Institute’s programs will be set up so that people from northeastern Oklahoma who want to work in the computer science industry can obtain the skills they need to get currently open jobs in said industry.
“Our goal,” Reed said, “is that we are creating today’s degrees for tomorrow’s workforce.”
And working with TCC is an important part of that.
White is thrilled about this partnership. “I’m excited to work with Dr. Reed and partner with the OU Polytechnic [Institute],” he said.
While TCC is still finalizing the pathway to transfer to the OUPI in terms of courses, White stressed that he looks forward to working with Reed and the OU-Tulsa Schusterman campus to help build various new pathways for students.
Reed has been working with White and TCC to identify how the OUPI can build upon the classes TCC is currently offering.
“We need to meet students where they are. As a college, our goal is to be student ready. And the fact that we have these common goals [with TCC] just makes for a perfect partnership,” Reed said.
White agrees. “We’re both of like mind in terms of reaching out to students for equitable opportunities across the community. We’re very much of the same mindset,” he said.
When it comes to cybersecurity education, there are two degree pathways for TCC students.
The associate in applied science degree is intended for students to complete the degree program and go directly into the workforce (not go on to get a bachelor’s degree). It can also be for people who already work in the tech field and want to gain more skills. (More information about this degree can be found here.)
On the other hand, TCC’s associate in science degree in computer information systems (sometimes referred to as the “IT transfer pathway”) is meant for students planning on transferring to a university to get a bachelor’s degree. Once TCC’s agreement with OU-Tulsa is formalized, students who obtain this degree will be able to transfer to OU-Tulsa and receive a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity from the Polytechnic Institute there. (More information about TCC’s computer information systems degree can be found here.)
Like the OUPI, TCC has a workforce advisory board that helps the faculty stay up to date with the rapid growth and changes in the tech field. Teachers can also obtain real, anonymized data sets to use in the curriculum, as well as examples of real-life cybersecurity problems (again, with the companies’ names made anonymous, for security purposes), such as data breaches, and how the companies involved overcame them.
TCC also utilizes hands-on learning in its cybersecurity degrees. In fact, a new specialized computer lab is being created at the Southeast Campus by connecting two classrooms to the same data center.
White said he has “always envisioned one class trying to penetrate that network while the other [class is] trying to defend it,” like the good and bad guys in just about any hacking-related movie.
That being said, TCC is not training or encouraging people to be illegal hackers. White stressed that the importance of training students in both offense and defense is “so that they can attempt to penetrate a network to see what they [do and don’t] encounter to help protect and secure that network and its information.”
For instance, a company that wants to improve their network safety to protect against data breaches, like the one the City of Tulsa experienced several years ago, could hire some people to attempt to break into their network and let them know what they find and if improvements need to be made to better protect it.
White emphasized that even if you are not going into this program, it is important to try and learn a little bit about cybersecurity, so that you can better protect yourself and your family.
“I would just encourage people to immerse themselves, just for a moment, just a little bit, on some level in awareness of cybersecurity. Cybersecurity can’t [just] be some department’s responsibility. It’s all of our responsibility,” he said.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency recommends doing things like using multi-factor authentication (also called two-factor authentication), updating your software regularly, thinking before you click on suspicious links, and using strong passwords to be safer online. (More information can be found here, on the agency’s website.)
Room for growth in the technology space is available, and Reed and White are just some of the people in the community that are working to make Tulsa a tech hub. While White does not think Tulsa is going to be the next Silicon Valley, he says, “there’s nothing preventing us from being a leader in that space in the region and potentially even nationally.”
After the cybersecurity degree, the Polytechnic Institute’s next programs will be in artificial intelligence, software development and integration, digital manufacturing, and health information systems.
As Reed says, “they’re all kind of a cross between the digital age that we’re in right now and various industries.”
Reed is most looking forward to working with the students and helping them along their pathway to get their degree. “I can’t wait for the students to get here,” she said. “And when they [get] that diploma, that’s really our reward… and they walk across that stage and continue walking into a company.”
For more information about the Polytechnic Institute, visit www.ou.edu/tulsa/polytechnic.