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Great Falls College-MSU cybersecurity students get real-world experience

Megin Bowshier and Dan Betcher
Great Falls College-MSU
Great Falls College-MSU
Posted at 2:31 PM, Mar 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-11 13:16:49-05

GREAT FALLS — At Great Falls College-MSU, two cybersecurity students are getting valuable hands-on experience with an internship program that’s the first of its kind in Montana.

The internship program is with the Montana Department of Administration. Through the program, the students learn how to protect sensitive information for the state and eliminate virtual threats to the department.

“They’re really seeing what the reality of organizations and the day-to-day work is,” said Computer Technology Program director Steve Robinett. "That’s something we can talk about in a classroom and we can simulate some of that, but there’s no substitute for that kind of practical experience so as I’m fond of saying, we struck gold on this as an opportunity.”

Megin Bowshier and Dan Betcher work for the state for about 18 hours a week, with six-hour shifts on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The state has divided their cybersecurity department into two teams - "red" and "blue." One team goes on the offensive, hunting for vulnerabilities in their software. The other team is more defensive, reacting to alerts for malware and searching for anything that may damage the system.

“The scope of the classroom is so limited, what we were exposed to in the state of Montana Department of Administration and their cybersecurity division was amazing,” said Betcher. “The tools that they use, I had never even heard of.”

The two students have almost completed their seven-week internship with the state that they say has helped them tremendously in getting the real-life experience and education they need for this career.

“It has made me a lot more confident,” said Bowshier. “I actually know what I’m going to do, I graduate after this semester, and I have a plan to get certain certifications that they’re telling me to get and I kind of know the job that I want to go for.”

Bowshier, a 27-year-old who is from Idaho, came to Great Falls College and the cybersecurity program when her husband was stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base. “Since my husband is military, I need a job that will travel, and cybersecurity is great for that,” she said. “I’m able to get a job on base if I get the proper clearance, and the job market is great, the pay is great. I feel I can get a job anywhere.”

Betcher, a 36-year-old married father of three girls, was looking for a career change after working as a group-home manager when he started taking classes at Great Falls College and came across the cybersecurity program. “The education I have received so far has been great,” Betcher said. “The instructors who are teaching the courses online or in person are very helpful and very thorough. They are very knowledgeable in the areas they are teaching, and you can tell that by the way they present the information to you.”

Robinett can’t speak highly enough of the experience the students are receiving: “They are giving the experience and reality that can’t really be effectively duplicated. The graduates who go through this will have a real leg up when they enter the job market. What they are doing is above and beyond what I have experienced with internships. They really created their own curriculum within the internship.”

He said the state is using a nationally recognized framework for the internship “that is literally a checklist of technical areas they are giving students experience in,” and he compared it to nurses who take national boards so potential employers can be confident they have mastered certain skills.

Next week, two more Great Falls College students are set to begin their seven-week internship program with the Montana Department of Administration.

Click here to visit the Great Falls College website for more information about the program.