Mercy College’s Cyber Defense is Recognized Third Time as a National Center of Academic Excellence


Mercy College is recognized for the third time as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD) by the National Security Agency (NSA).

This means that the cybersecurity program at Mercy meets the national standard. The courses that are taught, the material and the program are up to date and they offer high quality academic programs that promote the United States national security.

Due to Mercy getting this designation of CAE, Mercy is eligible for additional grants and scholarships. Mercy is also able to attend technical talks organized by the NSA which help faculty members stay up to date in cyber security because it is constantly changing. Mercy students will also be able to attend CAE career fairs and CAE cybersecurity challenges.

“I think it means that we are the leader in this area and I think that it means that we’re connected to the national network of cybersecurity educators and that we are a part of this national priority to cybersecurity,” says Interim Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Peter West.

In order to receive this designation, Mercy had to apply and go through a very diligent evaluation process that takes about half a year. The preparation is over the course of five years. The faculty has to show the cybersecurity curriculum, Mercy’s own cybersecurity and the webpage. In addition, the activities that Mercy hosts where people from other places come to participate in activities where Mercy shows how they teach cybersecurity. Not just in cybersecurity classes, but in other programs like health sciences or criminal justice.

“It’s very overwhelming,” says Ph.D., professor and director of Mercy’s Cybersecurity Education Center (MCEC), Zhixiong Chen. “We have to get all the information, all the faculty involved and the program director. We all have to work together to show evidence that we meet the standard.”

Because the cybersecurity field is constantly changing due to technology advancing, the management and the legality, faculty has to look at the programs and check to see if they’re up to date.

“The skills you learned five years ago might be obsolete so you have to learn new skills. It changes everywhere not only the content, but also how you deliver the information and how to assess it,” explains Chen.

To keep up with the constant change, Mercy has a advisory board that consists of people who work in the field of cybersecurity and meet regularly with Mercy’s faculty and administration. The advisory board tells the staff what support they should be giving the students so they can be prepared to work in the cybersecurity fields.

A way Mercy prepares students to work in the cybersecurity field is MCEC. Through this, students are given up to date opportunities to learn about what cybersecurity involves. Students also get to participate in national and international competitions, and in hackathons. This allows students to solve problems that are just like the problems they’ll have to solve if they were to work in the cybersecurity field.

“It gives them the assurance that the skills that they’re learning in college are going to make them relevant and valuable when they go out into the market place,” said West.

Another way students are being helped is that they get to connect to the professionals, Mercy’s alumni. The alumni chat with the students about what the industry needs and help them prepare for the job for when they graduate.

After graduation, students have been able to obtain jobs as cybersecurity specialists, network administrators and auditors.

Another benefit of being CAE is Mercy gets to be involved in interdisciplinary collaborations. Mercy gets an opportunity to partner with companies and nonprofits in the region to help them address their own cybersecurity needs. In doing this, Mercy gets to learn from them about what companies need their employees to be able to do and what cybersecurity issues they’re facing so that Mercy can make sure that the courses that are being offered are meeting the requirements to ensure that the students are qualified.

Chen added, “We’re committed. We’re not short term where we go. It’s not ‘OK, we did it’ and then forget. We’re really committed to the students, to the college, to the nation. You can see our commitment. Yes we want to keep the high quality of the majors and we want to make sure to fulfill our responsibilities.”