Katie Marshall: Mastering cybersecurity

Katie Marshall sitting at desk, listening“There’s been an immense increase in accounts, passwords and personally identifiable information floating through cyberspace due to the pandemic,” says Katie Marshall, M.S.’19, instructor of business information systems. And that could be a problem, creating an environment primed for attackers and a critical need for secure management of information through policies and practices, both in workplaces and personal life.

Marshall is one of the first graduates of Western Michigan University’s online cybersecurity master’s program, which provides advanced skill development in both the technical and business sides of cybersecurity, preparing graduates with the ability to protect information from today’s threats, and the ones that may emerge tomorrow. 

What are tomorrow’s threats, according to Marshall? “The list of looming cybersecurity concerns is incredibly long. One of the most critical issues facing us in the future will be threats to governments and critical infrastructure and systems. A well-placed attack could wreak havoc. On a smaller scale, businesses will continue to face attacks that grow in sophistication as more vulnerabilities and tools are discovered and developed. Individuals will need to enhance their own understanding of safe cyber-practices and remain diligent in order to safeguard personal information.”

The list is long, but so too is the list of skills that WMU cybersecurity graduates possess—skills that Marshall is now passing on in her faculty role at WMU, which she assumed in summer of 2019.

The flexible graduate programs, and the new undergraduate cybersecurity program, meet students where they are and provide the very best in online instruction. “The cybersecurity program was a remarkable experience for me because I was challenged in so many new ways—both personally and professionally.” says Marshall. “Personally, I learned to expand my thinking and assume a more technical perspective. One of my favorite elements of the program was the way the courses were structured with one accelerated course followed immediately by another. This really established sound time management skills. Professionally, I gained knowledge and skills critical in the field of cybersecurity, but because of the way the program and courses were designed, it felt very natural instead of forced.”

Not being forced into an environment that feels “less than” an in-person course is critical for successful online instruction.  “The program allowed for an exceptional amount of flexibility in my already-busy schedule,” Marshall notes. “The entire program was tightknit, so faculty engagement and one-on-one time with faculty was higher than I’ve experienced in other programs. Despite it being fully online, I developed relationships with both faculty and peers in the program solely from having courses with the same individuals time and time again. Course design was split into modules, which made it really easy to follow week by week regardless of the pace of the course.”

When Marshall reflects on and looks forward to her trajectory in the cybersecurity field, a few things stand out to her. “This degree is a great investment. If you are thinking about expanding your cybersecurity skill set: enroll and just do it! It won’t be a decision you will regret; the work-life balance of the online program allows you to accelerate your career without sacrificing other aspects of your life. For women considering the program, I understand it can be daunting to be in historically male-dominated space. A program like this provides you with the knowledge to feel confident and be a leader where you can advocate for greater diversity at your organization, including building pipelines that attract talent from underrepresented groups.”