It's a good thing Ethan Smith paid close attention to the big picture while enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Information Assurance and Cyber Defense program at Eastern Michigan University.
"I learned that the environment that I am pursuing can always change," he said. "You learn something, and then you wake up one day and the technology has changed.
"They focused on that — the concepts behind it and not necessarily the tools. The way they taught the ability to adapt to those changes in the program was good for me."
Smith, a United States Marine Corps veteran, was planning on a career working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Instead, he landed a job at the Ford Motor Company as a systems engineer shortly after graduating with a master's degree from University of Detroit Mercy in May 2019.
"My time in college changed that plan to work federal," he said. "It's still open now, but I will probably go the civilian route. I love the job at Ford."
After serving four years in the Marines as a military police officer, Smith enrolled in an associate degree program at Oakland Community College. He also interviewed for a position at the FBI, but he needed additional higher education to qualify to become an agent.
"When I was with the FBI, they told me they have accredited certain schools throughout America for cyber security programs," he said. "If you go through one of these programs, you can do the entry essay and know what you need you to know to apply."
Finding a Domain
Smith had a keen interest in law enforcement from an early age while growing up in Waterford, Michigan. His late father, Wesley Joseph Smith, was a military policeman in the Air Force. Smith hopped on his career path early by working as a security guard for Waterford Community Church as a teenager.
"Helping people is what I have always wanted to do," he said. "I had some experiences during my time in the Marine Corps that fit with cyber security. It worked out because I was not a computer master, but I took a couple of courses in high school.
"I always had the knack of learning it quickly. The combination helped me find my passion and motivation for all of this. I went to a career fair one day and learned about cyber security. I looked into it and started pursuing that route. I've been in it ever since."
After graduating with an associate degree in accounting and computer science in 2016, Smith enrolled at EMU on the recommendation of a trusted advisor.
"He told me, 'Go to Eastern for a bachelor's degree, come back to me for your master's and get the NSA accreditation," Smith said. "I am glad he gave me that recommendation.
"Eastern exposed me to the environment of information assurance and cyber defense so much, nailed it on the ethical side and wrapped it up nicely on the business and analytical side. When I did the master's degree, it was all the business side. Seeing the two flavors and how they work and blend together was a good combination."
The Worm Turns
During Smith's two years in the BS in Information Assurance and Cyber Defense program, he especially enjoyed the courses that focused on working with Active Directory for Windows.
"The Windows courses included the administration side of the Active Directory and managing everything it manages," he said. "I liked them especially because they were so hands on. The first year, where they combined the Windows and advanced Windows courses, was hard. But by the time I finished, I had learned so much information."
However, a four-month internship with General Electric that Smith did while enrolled in the program ultimately did the most to shape his future.
"We had to do an internship for one of the classes and write a paper about it," he said. "It was one of the best experiences. Being able to get that experience was big. Eastern is good at doing job fairs where companies come in and do panels so you can attach yourself to these companies.
"Then, you have a meeting group and tackle certain topics. You can compete at national conferences, where a lot of the networking is done. The doors that they open for you at Eastern are incredible."
Smith punctuated his experience at EMU by walking in the commencement ceremony in 2018 before transitioning into the Master of Information and Cyber Security program at Detroit Mercy.
"It was fun," he said of graduation day. "I am the first one in my family to get a bachelor's degree and a master's degree. My family is excited."
Now that Smith is finished with college, he plans to enjoy building a career at Ford and perhaps resuming his role as a certified professional trainer in Ypsilanti. He knows that no matter what life throws at him, he'll be ready to adapt after his time at EMU.
"Don't go into this program thinking it's an emerging field, and you can earn a degree and make a fast buck," he said. "You learn that you are attending school, but you are going to continue learning the rest of your career. Eastern is good at letting you know that's the way it's going to be."Learn more about the EMU online BS in Information Assurance and Cyber Defense program.
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