Penn State York awards its first cybersecurity degree

John Dyson graduated in spring 2023 with a bachelor of science degree in cybersecurity analytics and operations
Male student in cap and gown shaking hands with older man wearing glasses and dressed in academic regalia

John “JP” Dyson (right) shakes hands with Penn State York Chancellor David Christiansen (left) at the Penn State York commencement ceremony on May 5 celebrating 2023 graduates.

Credit: Barbara Dennis

Editor's note: Throughout the summer, Penn State York is sharing a series of stories highlighting its spring 2023 graduates.

YORK, Pa. — John “JP” Dyson was the first student to graduate from Penn State York with a bachelor of science degree in cybersecurity analytics and operations, a new program where students can gain technical skills, risk management strategies, and analytical methods to safeguard data and systems.

“Before the cyber program was brought to Penn State York, I had many discussions with my adviser about my career path and potential options,” said Dyson. “I came to York as an aerospace engineering major, then I switched to computer science, which would have taken me all the way to Harrisburg. My adviser then informed me of the creation of a cyber program at York; this allowed me to stay local to complete my degree, which was very convenient.”

While it is common for students to switch majors before graduation, it is not every day that a new program becomes available at a campus. In Dyson’s case, the launch of the cybersecurity analytics and operations program was just what he needed to achieve his goals, he said.

“The courses I took within the cyber program were abundant,” he said. “I have taken a few courses on policy writing and framework mapping, including incident response and disaster recovery policies. I have also done some work with various tools such as Ghidra, Splunk, OSForensics, and more to break down assembly code, review Security Operation Center (SOC) information, and complete computer forensics.”

Gaining technical skills is not the only important part of the college experience — Dyson said he discovered that participating in a sport helped him engage with the campus community and provided other surprising benefits.

Love of baseball

When Dyson was faced with choosing a college, he factored athletic opportunities into his decision.

“Penn State York was my choice primarily because of proximity and cost, but also because of the opportunities it provided athletically,” Dyson said. “I had been accepted to numerous other schools, but they were much more expensive and did not give me the opportunity to continue playing baseball.”

Building camaraderie isn’t the only advantage of joining a college sports team. Dyson said he was surprised to find opportunities to boost his résumé and his confidence.

“I received a few Dean’s List awards for academic achievement, but most of my awards came from athletics,” Dyson explained. “I had been awarded the John Fritz Sportsmanship award a handful of times, which I like to think tells a lot about my character. I received All-Conference awards for athletic performance, but I’m most proud of the All-Conference academic awards, where student athletes are rewarded for their dedication to their education while competing at a high level athletically,” he said.

Any award is a great addition to a résumé, but when employers are seeking the best fit for their office culture, personal integrity and character are vital traits. Being recognized for these qualities can help a candidate stand out among the crowd and Dyson said he believes it helped him when it came time to find a job.

“I feel the sportsmanship awards helped more than anything because they show that I’m a team player,” said Dyson. “Penn State York baseball shaped me to face adversity head-on and learn from mistakes. I feel lots of people take criticism personally, and sports in general give people the opportunity to see lots of criticism and learn how to handle it.”

Graduating with job options

In a competitive job market, the more a candidate can do to stand out from the crowd, the better. In Dyson’s case, he was able to tout an industry certification and athletic success prior to entering the workforce.

“My advisers and cyber professors ensured that I took the required courses for the degree, but they also made sure I got enough credits for an Information Science and Technology program certificate as well! Employers within the cyber industry care about experience and which certifications you have.”

Not all graduates find employment in their field straight out of college, but Dyson said he felt fortunate to have had several opportunities to choose from.

“I had a lot of options post-graduation,” he said. “Thanks to my advisers and the faculty at Penn State York, I felt prepared no matter what I decided to do.”

Bringing soft skills from school into the office

Dyson said he continues to value the skills he learned through his team and group learning experiences at Penn State York and incorporates those lessons in his everyday work.

“I work in Harrisburg at the Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union’s (PSECU) corporate headquarters,” Dyson said. “I had the opportunity to work in teams and groups throughout my entire time at Penn State York, and I think that’s the most valuable soft skill I obtained. At PSECU, I’m collaborating and talking with other people around the organization daily, so it’s very important to be able to both listen and respond to the group’s needs in contrast to individual needs.”

Extending relationships beyond graduation

The bonds built through sport often last well beyond the college years. Dyson continues to have a connection with the York campus and hopes to extend that connection well into the future, he said.

“I plan on actively attending sporting events and baseball-related fundraisers,” said Dyson. “I had and continue to have a great relationship with my coaches, and that is a large factor in my connection with the school.”