When Chris Judkins, Vignesh Sivakumar and Alec Cornu Mitchell began their college careers four years ago, the cybersecurity engineering program at Augusta University did not even exist.
This week, Judkins, Sivakumar and Mitchell will proudly walk across the stage during the commencement ceremony on Friday, May 13 and become the first three students to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity engineering from Augusta University.
“I’m so glad that I’m walking with these two,” Judkins said, pointing at Sivakumar and Mitchell. “I’m honestly very proud and thankful that we were able to actually make it through some of the tough projects that we’ve had to do together. This is a hard major. It’s definitely one of the most rigorous course loads that I’ve seen in a computer science-related field, but we made it.”
Sivakumar, who is originally from New Delhi, India, and Mitchell, who was born in Aiken, South Carolina, met their freshman year at Augusta University.
“It’s wild because Vignesh and I have taken pretty much every semester together,” Mitchell said. “We met freshman year and became best friends, so it means a lot that we are graduating together.”After learning he would be one of the first students to graduate with a cybersecurity engineering degree from Augusta University this spring, Sivakumar remembers telling his parents the exciting news.
“We found out last semester, so I showed my parents that I would be graduating with only three people in our major and we’re the first ones graduating in this program. When I told them, they were like, ‘That’s cool,’” Sivakumar said, laughing. “They are very happy for me.”
Judkins, who is originally from Chesapeake, Virginia, said the commencement ceremony will mean a lot to his entire family.
“I’m the first in my family to go to a four-year university,” Judkins said. “Everyone is very excited to see me actually graduate. It’s definitely been a long journey to get here. And from what I have gathered from everyone that I’ve talked to in my family, they’re all very proud to see me complete this degree.”
The Bachelor of Science in cybersecurity engineering program at Augusta University trains professional engineers who are capable of applying mathematics, science and engineering knowledge to analyze and design complex systems.
Dr. Michael Nowatkowski, an associate professor with the School of Computer and Cyber Sciences and the head of the Cyber Program of Study, said he is thrilled that the first graduates of the cybersecurity engineering will soon receive their degrees.
“We are hoping that these graduates will be an example for other students who will want to follow them,” Nowatkowski said. “I know that we have several other students enrolled in the program now and more are applying as freshmen to come directly into the program, so it’s very exciting. Our program at Augusta University is the only cybersecurity engineering program in Georgia and there’s less than five in the United States that I’m aware of, so it’s a unique program.”
There are also a lot of job opportunities available, both in the public and private sector, for students with a cybersecurity engineering degree who want to pursue a career as a security engineer or cyber security analyst, Sivakumar said.
“In this program, there are a lot of classes that offer training that is very similar to what the National Security Agency wants and a lot of government positions need,” Sivakumar said. “For example, the NSA wants someone trained in cell and mobile technologies. In fact, a lot of their job descriptions ask for that training and this program offers a course with that exact training.”
Sivakumar, who began as a computer science major, said he was overjoyed his freshman year after Steven Weldon, an instructor of computer science at Augusta University’s School of Computer and Cyber Sciences, informed him that a cybersecurity engineering degree was going to be offered.
“I like how cybersecurity engineering is like a mixture of other majors such as computer science, information technology and there’s a bit of physics from the electronic side, which I enjoyed a lot,” he said. “There’s a little bit of all of those areas, which I think makes this degree really interesting.”
Over the past several years, Judkins said he has been amazed by the growth of cybersecurity in the Augusta area.
“I feel like the Georgia Cyber Center is a big attraction for our entire School of Computer and Cyber Sciences,” Judkins said. “It’s just a phenomenal facility and we have a lot of job opportunities right here. For example, I work for AU as a student assistant with the SOC (Security Operations Center). We do all of the security operations for AU’s network, which includes the hospital. So, it is hands-on work experience in a really large network with a lot of different issues that we have to resolve.”
Judkins, Sivakumar and Mitchell were also highly complimentary of the professors within the School of Computer and Cyber Sciences and the College of Sciences and Mathematics who helped pave their way into cybersecurity engineering, including Weldon, Nowatkowski, Dr. Michael Dowell, Dr. Joseph Hauger and Dr. Clément Aubert.
“The professors are really engaged with the students,” Mitchell said. “You can walk into a class and really tell when a professor is passionate about teaching you and making sure that you learn what you need to learn with this degree. I mean, you can walk in on the first day and feel it. Thanks to those professors, I know I’m thoroughly prepared for my future career.”
Augusta University’s Spring 2022 Commencement ceremonies will be held Thursday, May 12 and Friday, May 13. Thursday’s ceremony will honor graduate students, and Friday’s ceremonies will honor undergraduate students. Watch the events via livestream.