First Security and Risk Analysis degrees to be awarded

University Park, Pa. — A Penn State milestone is expected December 20, 2008, as the first degrees in Security and Risk Analysis (SRA) are to be awarded at ceremonies in the Bryce Jordan Center on the University Park campus.

Five students from the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) plan to receive their bachelor of science diplomas in a major launched in 2006 to meet society’s need to assure information safety, combat cyber-terrorism and effectively respond to emergencies and disasters.

Interviewed as the end of his final semester was in sight, one of those slated to graduate, Nicholas Covolus of Philadelphia, expressed both relief and excitement.

“I like that I’m on the leading edge right now,” he said, noting that along with his personal “first” as an SRA grad, his aunt was the first woman to receive a Penn State degree in Engineering Science.

Interest in SRA has grown rapidly over the past two years. Enrollment in SRA 111, the introductory course, has gone from 74 students in fall 2006 to an anticipated 233 in spring 2009. From fall 2007, when students could for the first time declare SRA their major, to fall 2008, the number has more than tripled, going from 47 to 168. And, while IST majors still dominate the college’s student body, SRA majors now account for more than 20 percent of the college population.

Some prospective SRA graduates interviewed began their Penn State careers with different aspirations, such as economics, engineering, and education. But when they learned about the new major, frequently through the college’s Undergraduate Advising Center, the light went on.

“From the time I was 11, I wanted to work for the FBI,” said Alexandra Pichardo, a Mission Viejo, Calif., native. “This was my dream major.”

Job prospects and ever-evolving professional landscape attracted Jared Grotz, of Fairless Hills, Pa.

“With SRA, things are always going to be changing,” he said. “You’re not going to be doing the same thing, day in and day out.

“There’s always going to be new challenges in the world with cyber-security,” Grotz went on. “That’s what appealed to me.”
The experience in the major apparently has lived up its promise. Students even expressed regret at not being around for more classes.

Pichardo enjoyed tackling projects with groups of fellow students who were as enthusiastic as she was and learning from professors who truly care about the subject they are teaching.

Compelling course content was equally important.

Said Grotz, “Normally within SRA courses, you would wind up walking away from a class with a chunk of knowledge that you didn’t have when you walked in.”

IST also is home to security-related student organizations, such as the SRA Club, advised by Assistant Professor Gerry Santoro, and the Information Assurance Club, advised by Associate Professor Peng Liu. Learning outside the classroom proved important to the prospective graduates as well.

“Some of the best ways to protect yourself against hackers is to know how hackers would get into your system, said Simon Shaw of Wellsboro of the “white-hat” hacking experiences he had in the Information Assurance Club.

While wrapping up their final requirements, the SRA majors also were making plans for their future professional lives.

Pichardo was finalizing arrangements to work in information security at Northrop Grumman in McLean, Va., where she had interned. Grotz and Covolus were in the process of interviewing with major corporations.

Shaw’s future will take him a little further afield from Happy Valley. His plans are to move to Perth, Australia, where his wife is planning on attending veterinary school at Murdoch University. Having already researched the Australian job market, he was confident about where his SRA degree could take him.

“I know there’s a lot of opportunity over there,” he said.

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Last Updated March 19, 2009