Cybersecurity Master’s Programs in Maryland


After *finally* graduating from UMBC with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Information Systems, I really did not want to go back. I still feel more closely associated with UMD, feel that UMD has a better name (for what it matters), and overall felt the caliber of students at UMD was higher. UMBC students seem to lack drive and creativity as compared to UMD students, in my opinion. Virtually everyone I knew, and continue to meet, at UMD had a side project they believed in and tried to bring to fruition. From bands to companies to protests, they showcase their ambitious spirit in their spare time. While UMD students are working on meaningful products, UMBC students are shut in their dorms, gaming. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there is a clear difference between the two campuses. And this doesn’t even mention my single largest beef with UMBC – the administration!

I talked with many, many industry professionals prior to deciding to pursue a Master’s in Cybersecurity. My concern is that it will/would be considered a “trendy” degree that will fall out of favor in the future and stain my resume, an indication that I was caught in the moment. However, I have been unanimously assured that Cybersecurity is a good way to go. With the degree set, I evaluated several Universities – Utica College in New York, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, UMBC, and UMD (UMCP).

Utica offers an online program. I merely requested information, I believe from, and was immediately called at work not five minutes later. Unfortunately, I was not able to pick up the phone at that time and ignored the call. Little did I know, I’d be called on a daily basis! This could be a good sign in terms of the University being responsive to students, but all I wanted was a brochure. Shortly after, I decided I did not want to pursue an online Master’s degree and I did not intend to move to NY, so Utica was out. They trail behind the other’s on my list in terms of industry recognition as well.

Johns Hopkins was my third choice due to cost alone. If you have the money, they appear to be a great choice. Given that they are more than twice as expensive as UMBC or UMD, I did not feel their name could make up the difference in cost. JHU’s program is technical in nature and lacks any management courses. If you attend in person, the program falls under their “Engineering for Professionals” college and is taught in the evenings with some weekend courses offered.

umd-2UMD, like JHU, emphasizes the technical aspects of Cybersecurity with the program belonging to their Engineering College. For those less technically oriented, the Robert Smith business school also offers a Cybersecurity certificate (15 credits) that is more policy based. Afterwards, the business school recommends moving on to an Information Systems Master’s for Policy/Management or a Master’s of Engineering in Cybersecurity for technical staff. UMD is the flagship school in the University of Maryland system, and having attended UMD in the past, I am biased towards them. However, their website for the Cybersecurity program is poor – to the point I was unable to even figure out the cost for an in-state student. Because of their technical emphasis, distance, and cost, I once again turned to UMBC.

umbc_library-2UMBC stands alone with their Cybersecurity offering. Rather than an engineering degree, UMBC offers a “Master’s of Professional Studies” (MPS) degree in Cybersecurity. It is a 30 credit program with a split personality – several management courses are mandatory and several technical courses are mandatory, but a total of four courses are electives that can go either way. UMBC’s program was assembled under the close guidance of industry professionals and all the professors for their Cybersecurity program are adjuncts. I really like UMBC’s Cybersecurity program because it is a higher level program that should stand the test of time better than the competing schools. I also like that it is taught by adjunct professors who are not teaching for the money, but for their love of teaching & to further the industry. In fact, of all the programs I evaluated, UMBC’s professors appear to be the most qualified and the most accomplished in the industry; the director even served as the CSO for InterNIC! Furthermore, many of UMBC’s professors also teach at nearby JHU – effectively offering the same education at a lower cost.

UMBC’s emphasis on policy and management should stand the test of time. One of my largest concerns with the Cybersecurity degree is that it is a “trendy” degree, but UMBC’s goals transcend that of other (lesser) Universities. Even with technical electives, the UMBC degree is still more general, oriented towards people and government, and therefore timeless. Why would I want my Master’s to be technically oriented in a field that reinvents itself so often? And this is the exact reason I steered away from UMD, despite my personal bias. My technical proficiency will be proven through industry experience and certifications – such as the GIAC GSEC that I am currently earning – while my management skills and industry wide understanding will be developed through the industry leading professionals teaching at UMBC’s Cybersecurity Master’s program. There is money to be made where management intersects technology!

Another point worth mentioning with all these programs is their standing with the NSA. JHU and UMBC are both NSA “Center[s] of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Research” AND NSA “Center[s] of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education” (CAE/R & CAE/IAE) while UMD is only recognized for research (CAE/R). Utica? I can’t find them on the NSA site at all.

UMBC and Inclement Weather

During my tenure at UMBC, I have come to notice that UMBC seldom closes or delays campus opening during inclement weather. Surrounding campuses such as CCBC (literally next door) and Towson will be closed while UMBC remains open. I am still on the UMD alert system and even they close well before UMBC – and they’re 30 miles south where snow seldom lays. This is inexcusable and dangerous behavior on UMBC’s part, particularly given their large commuter population.

I can immediately think of three distinct days UMBC should have at least opened with a delay and failed to do so. Once was in 2010 following a snow storm – the surrounding local roads were still covered with snow & ice, but UMBC remained open during exam week. I feel the correct course of action would have been to remain open in these extenuating circumstances but to offer a free pass for a makeup exam for those unwilling or unable to make it to campus. This winter semester, there were several mild snows. One resulted in treacherous road conditions and came with advance notice; CCBC notified their students they were opening with a two hour delay, UMBC did nothing. That morning, I drove to UMBC and was nearly rear ended twice, but thankfully did not have any incidents. The parking lot and the sidewalks at UMBC were covered in snow and made just the walk to class dangerous, yet UMBC remained open. Unfortunately one of my classmates was not so lucky and he was involved in a collision on I-695 during his commute to school. This is an all too real example of the consequences felt by students when UMBC throws caution to the wind.

The third example occurred yesterday and is the subject of this post. Maryland experienced an unusual snow storm late in the season, but both Weather Underground and The Weather Channel forecast significant snowfall, with The Weather Channel calling for 6-10″ during the day. Even NOAA, traditionally conservative, forecast 2-5″ for the area in total. By 3:30 AM yesterday morning it had begun to snow and the snow was laying on the ground. I set my alarm for 5:15 AM to wake up for work, looked outside, and saw at least 3″ of snow on the ground with moderate snow continuing to fall. With that much snow so early and with a forecast calling for it to continue throughout the day, I thought UMBC would at least open with a delay.

A couple weeks ago, the area was burnt by a similar storm. The Weather Channel was calling for up to 18″ of snow at one point, but it never materialized. My house did see up to 6″ of snow but it quickly melted away as the temperature rose above freezing. UMBC, along with every other Baltimore area business and school, closed for what turned out to be nothing more than a rain storm. The roads were fantastic all the way into Pennsylvania. Because of this, businesses and schools were understandably reluctant to close for round two.

Moving back to yesterday, most waited to call in a delay, but even CCBC gave notice of two hour delay by 6 AM and Carroll County schools were closed. UMBC failed to send a notice at all, neither acknowledging they would remain open nor sending out a delay. I have an 8:30 AM history class so I fired up my car, cleaned it off, and attempted to leave for the morning despite the danger. I reached the end of my driveway and found the public road, a designated snow route, untouched; it was not salted or plowed at all. I made the choice to stay home but my car would not reverse up the driveway. Initially I was going to turn around in the road, but a car came sliding sideways down the road towards me so I didn’t feel it would be a wise to pull into the road and risk getting stuck, and subsequently hit by another sliding car. Thankfully the first snowplow of the morning came by and cleared the road well enough to turn around.

After I returned home, I snapped a picture of the current snowfall outside.UMBC Snow on March 25 2013

That picture was at about 6:50 AM while UMBC was still open with absolutely no mention of a delay! At this point, students started to become upset by UMBC’s lack of action and posted a thread on the MyUMBC discussion board.

MyUMBC Snow Discussion

Discussion on MyUMBC Message Boards

Clearly UMBC’s decision to remain open was unpopular by 7 AM. At 8:28 AM, I was notified that UMBC was closed effective 8:30 AM. Had I driven in that morning, I would have wasted my time, money, and gas only to have my class cancelled. Then there would be the decision of where to go from there because I cannot teleport to my work or home (although that would be cool!). Obviously I was not the only one upset about this debacle.

MyUMBC Snow Discussion

MyUMBC Snow Discussion

Then at  “Mon, Mar 25, 2013 at 11:47 AM” according to the time stamp, UMBC sent out an apology regarding the timing of the closure. The apology was necessary, but the timing of the apology was a bit tardy and likely in response to uproar generated by the students and professors UMBC had needlessly drive out to campus in downright terrible weather conditions.

UMBC Snow Apology

UMBC Snow Apology

The best part is “We based our initial decision to open campus on the best forecasts available early this morning, and unfortunately, conditions continued to change throughout the morning. ” “Best forecasts available!?” I guess they missed the part where they could look out a window. My history professor (who had just arrived from the airport in time for class), several students, and a guest lecturer (who drove in from Frederick) all made it to class just in time to be notified by UMBC that they needed to return home.

An appropriate weather policy would have UMBC err on the side of caution and call two hour delays when necessary. This gives them time to evaluate conditions make the final call to close campus if needed. With the large student commuter population at the university, UMBC should be the first to close, not the last. I sincerely hope, for the sake of the students, that these situations do not arise again.