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The story behind Canada’s first cyber security degree | Science & Technology

Sheridan computer science coordinator Dr. Dragana Martinovic knew Ralevich’s background better than anyone — the married couple had co-written and presented numerous research papers advocating for increased security surrounding educational and medical data — but others within Sheridan’s School of Applied Computing recognized Ralevich’s expertise as well. “Victor was aware of the security threats that were emerging in industry,” recalls long-time School of Applied Computing administrator Mark Orlando, “and he also understood the skillset necessary to defend against those threats: cryptography, intrusion detection, penetration testing, security auditing, ethical hacking and more. He knew what it took to create a well-rounded cyber security professional.”

While Ralevich and Martinovic both felt security concepts should be taught in the computer science diploma program, they also realized three years was not enough time to instill all the advanced mathematics, networking and other competencies required of cyber security specialists. But when the Post-secondary Education Choice and Excellence Act was passed in 2000, making it possible for Ontario colleges to offer applied degrees, Ralevich was quick to propose that Sheridan become the first post-secondary institution in Canada to offer an undergraduate cyber security degree. “I knew it would be a challenge,” says Gary Closson, Sheridan’s Dean of Applied Computing and Engineering Services from 1996 to 2007, “but I loved the idea — especially because we already had such a strong computer science program.”

Pioneering a unique blend of cyber security and computer science

With full support from Sheridan’s leadership, Ralevich spent the next two years shaping a unique curriculum that embedded cyber security concepts into foundational computer science. The first program map consisted of courses in database security, network security, writing secure programs, ethics and ethical hacking, information systems security legislation, computer forensics, physical security, operations security and communications security. Ralevich also sought out information systems security managers and industry professionals to serve on the program’s Professional Advisory Council (PAC), which supported the program’s development by further informing curriculum, serving as guest speakers, donating hardware and software, funding grant opportunities for exceptional students and providing eight-month paid internship opportunities between the third and fourth years of the program.

“The PEQAB (Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board) requirements for college degrees were so rigorous,” Closson recalls. “They were insistent that we did not duplicate any degrees that were offered by any universities, which is a reason we called the program the ‘Bachelor of Applied Information Sciences – Information Systems Security.’ Even then, there were university professors reviewing the program to ensure that it truly was unique.” PEQAB also mandated that the program’s faculty either had extensive industry experience — difficult to find in a fledgling field — or advanced academic credentials such as PhDs or masters.

“Sheridan wasn’t far behind the police in realizing (digital forensics) was an important field to learn.”

– Former digital forensics professor Joseph Coltson

Several professors in Sheridan’s computer science diploma program already had the latter, but they still upgraded their education by earning Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) and Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) certifications to strengthen the new program’s proposal. To round out the faculty, Ralevich leveraged his industry connections and also searched for qualified security professionals who had experience in related fields.

Joseph Coltson was a long-time detective with the Peel Regional Police when Ralevich approached him at a 2002 High Technology Crime Investigation Association meeting and invited him to design and teach the program’s second-year digital forensics course. “I’d learned about digital forensics a couple of years earlier through training from the Ontario Police College and the Canadian Police College, so Sheridan wasn’t far behind the police in realizing this was an important field to learn,” says Coltson, who is now Partner, National Forensics Markets Lead for professional services firm PwC Canada. “I built the course around my personal experience and kept things very introductory, which would allow students to play around with some of the tools while building an understanding of the investigative process. I tried to make it very real-life for them.”

Despite all those efforts, Sheridan’s first application for PEQAB approval of the new degree was denied because the program map proposed that the fourth year of studies be delivered entirely online — a novel approach that the Ontario Ministry of Education didn’t feel was feasible for degree-level studies. “The Ministry’s logic at that time doesn’t make sense nowadays,” says Lenore Edmunds, then an associate dean in Sheridan’s School of Applied Computing and Information Management. “Since our students would be going out into industry for an eight-month internship between their third and fourth years, we thought they could go to work, make some contacts and then be able to stay where they were while completing that final year. It was a great idea.”

“When this degree finally went forward, it was primarily because of Victor. He had such a passion for what he was doing and such a commitment to it. It was unbelievable.”

– Former School of Applied Computing and Information Management Associate Dean Lenore Edmunds

Sheridan was undeterred, applying again the following year and this time securing PEQAB approval. “When the first proposal got turned down, Maureen Callahan (then Sheridan’s Vice-President, Academic) said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll submit it again,” Edmunds says, “and our second proposal made sure to highlight all the quality assurance measures we had in place, such as our Local Academic Committee. But in all honesty, when this degree finally went forward, it was primarily because of Victor. He had such a passion for what he was doing and such a commitment to it. It was unbelievable.”


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