AUGUSTA, GA (WJBF) Augusta University can put you on the path to a high-paying job in cybersecurity. On this edition of The Means Report, we talk about the new degree program. Dr. Gursimran Walia is the Associate Dean of the School of Computer and Cyber Sciences at AU. He talks about the program and how it can lead to a great career. Please watch our interview and join us for The Means Report Monday afternoons at 12:30 on NewsChannel 6.
Welcome back to the Means Report. We appreciate you staying with us as we move from talking about hospitals in general to talking about the security of the information systems at hospitals and other institutions. It’s something that is a focal point at Augusta University right now. Thanks to a brand-new degree program being offered. The degree program is a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Systems Engineering. Sounds complicated, but we have a special guest to make it all much easier to understand. He is Dr. Gursimran Walia. He is the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the School of Computer and Cyber Sciences at Augusta University. Dr. Walia, thanks for what you do and thanks for being here today.
Yeah, happy to be here.
All right, so I mentioned healthcare systems. I want you to tell me how this new degree program might help get students prepared for that field. Do you focus a lot on hospitals and healthcare systems and the security of their information?
Yes, so this program especially geared towards developing security engineers from health systems and health sciences. So two of the biggest strengths at AU, medicine, as well as cybersecurity. This is a truly one of a kind program that bridges two fields together. So we are really preparing students to have the background in health system, health system processes, the systems that are used, but also understand how to do the secure integration of those systems. So have computing background, have cybersecurity background. So we’re truly creating these folks who will be secured engineers, who will be able to understand the issues in the secure integration of the systems and healthcare systems.
So I was gonna ask you if there are other skills they’re learning, but are the skills all geared toward the healthcare industry?
Yes, but the skills, though we too teach, especially in the systems engineering, are transferable to other critical infrastructures, too, so that you have a very good understanding of how systems work, how to secure these individual pieces. But this focus is really geared towards creating this secure software engineers in the health system field. But the skills are transferable to other.
All right, that’s good. They could plug them in elsewhere.
How concerned should we be about our enemies targeting our healthcare systems and what might they do to hurt us in that area?
So we’ve already seen, there’s 200 of ransomware attacks in the health systems that has started with individual hospitals, but to also systems of hospitals as well. So this is really a very concerted effort at trying to prepare these future graduates who are not your standard IT guide that you plug in a hospital. They have a really good understanding of how all the information systems that are being used in the health system processes, how people communicate with each other so that they’re able to develop security solutions, but also be able to maintain and identify where the issues may be.
What does it look like in a hospital setting if somebody does hack into the system? Do they turn off the machines that I’m hooked up to as a patient? Or do they just get my information out of the billing department? Or can they control the amount of medicine that’s going in my arm?
So there has been incidents where a lot of these medical devices that are being developed, they are being developed with wireless capability, but now with wireless security in mind. So there has been incidents where folks have hacked into these insulin pumps, pacemakers. But a lot of the ransomware attacks have been hacking into the information systems and making the confidential patient information publicly available. So it’s a gamut of all the different kind of things.
Okay, first of all, that’s really scary.
That you could be wearing a wireless device and somebody could access it. So my question is, what’s it look like when you try to thwart that? Does perhaps one of your graduates in the future see that attempted hack coming in, type something on the keyboard that sends it away or destroys it? Is that how you get rid of malware?
So I think it’s a little bigger than that. So we are working with Savannah River National Lab, one of our major pipeline of the graduate students that will come out of this program. So a lot of these graduates will be involved in designing of these medical devices. So the security is not an afterthought. It is built into the system as you’re designing these system. But also as you integrate these different systems, how do you make sure there’s a secure integration? So it’s a very involved process. It’s not just somebody else’s developing these medical devices. You just have to go and make sure they can’t be penetrated.
Yeah, so we’re less defense, more offense. You know, let’s put the stuff out there that can’t be penetrated.
And as part of the semester yearlong preparation at the end of their senior year, they’ll be working with a real customer, real client to develop what we call a Senior Designer Capstone Project. As a two-semester long, they’re working with a real client, understanding their requirements, are producing an engineering solution in this area so that they’re ready day one.
All right, so that sounds super hard to me. But what’s the ideal degree candidate looked like? Somebody who spent their life immersed in STEM?
I love this question, because we now have a lot of students that started as pre-med, started as, “Hey, I’m interested in medicine, I’m interested in nursing.” The very first time they take a programming course, they’re like, “Hey, I love this. This helps me solve problems critically.” So we’ve actually seen a lot of influx of pre-meds and pre-nursing students changing their major to computing.
Yes. So I get students that will be really interested in the intersection of medicine, as well as computing, and cyber security. Those are the students who love this degree program.
How much can they make with their first job? Do you know yet?
So engineering degrees, they generally do are very highly paid. And when you add in the medicine background, so-
You mean, 100, 150?
I had a student who’s graduated with a computer science degree and his starting salary was 120k.
You’re kidding. Man, mine was 14,000.
Mine was 70.
That’s incredible. All right, you mentioned Savannah River. Are you working with other companies and organizations? It’s one thing for you to teach in the classroom, Dr. Walia. And I know you’re great at it. But what do they do out in the real world before they graduate? And are there companies working with them to teach them, “Hey, this is what your job’s gonna look like one day?”
Right, so a lot of the preparation is preparing them for generic skill that are transferable to different industries. So, yes, they could go to MCG. They could go to Savannah River National Labs, some of the private medical security labs. But they could also pursue PhDs and graduate study. But the curriculum is developed in a way that it gives you these transferable skills. It gives you skills to be ready day one.
What would you say to parents who are watching right now? Maybe they’re a little bit wide-eyed after hearing what you just said and saying, “Okay, I’ve gotta put my child on this track, so that they do end up in your program one day. How early in our children’s lives should we encourage them to start focusing on STEM studies?”
Right. So Georgia has a very renewed focus on STEM in high schools, Maryland High Schools. Especially computing is becoming such a required skill, especially programming, in Maryland High Schools, that definitely get your kids exposed to that. It’s such a great way to solve problems critically. And it’s such a generic skill that you can go and apply anywhere. So a lot of our students, they were exposed to cyber pathways, CS Pathways in Midland High Schools that came in and knew that this is an exciting field, it’s not boring. So we also have a lot of students that come in as pre-med, medicine, ’cause that’s what their parents told them. But they got interested in their first computing course they took or first cyber security course they took, and they’re like, “Hey, this is hands-on. This is what I really want to do, ’cause you can see the tangible things you’re doing.”
Yeah, we need more young people with problem-solving skills, don’t we?
I mean, it’s one thing to be book-smart. And it’s another thing to be able to know how to think your way out of a situation. Real quick in the time we have left, I want to ask you if you’re willing to tell me and tell our viewers what we can do at home to keep our data safe. Is it all about having a super tough password? What are some other ways we can make sure nobody can hack us?
Yeah, definitely, do not put passwords on stickies. Change your passwords regularly. We actually have a course where we introduce, when all of our students come into our program, we introduce them to introduction to networking and cybersecurity. We talk them about the basic cybersecurity principles you need to follow in real life, how to make your home network secure. So definitely change your passwords regularly. Have a strong passwords and don’t share them.
Do you trust public wifi, hotels, Starbucks? Do you trust that, or is it better to use the hotspot on your phone for your wifi?
I always use my hotspot for wifi. And I do not do any banking information on a public wifi.
No, it’s good advice, man. It really is. Dr. Gursimran Walia, thank you for all you do and thank you for informing us today. I’ve learned a ton and I appreciate it.
Yes, and I’ll look forward to seeing the students that are really interested in the program.