For Capitol master’s graduate, supportive staff, practical approach set school apart
When Zenas Valentine decided to begin a master’s degree in cybersecurity, he wasn’t sure how it would go. After all, he had just graduated from college. He’d be in a program that drew working professionals, some twice his age, with significant career experience. Did he have what it takes?
As it turned out, Zenas not only successfully completed the program, but did it in one year – half the time that is normally required and with a 3.99 GPA.
“It was a challenge put forward by my dad,” Zenas explains. “He had previously challenged me to finish my undergraduate degree in three years instead of the normal four, and I did.”
Dr. William Butler, chair of the cybersecurity program, and Sarah Alspaw, associate director of career services, sat down with Zenas and worked out a plan. They were encouraging, but forthright: finishing in one year was possible, they said, but it wouldn’t be easy. Typically, a master’s student takes two or three courses a semester, each of which meets twice a week. Zenas would have to take as many as five. That translated into a lot of classroom time, not to mention homework and exams.
“I was meeting every day of the week for class. Every day of the week I had homework; every day I had projects,” he recalls.
Zenas credits God for his blessings, and his father for encouraging him to strive towards an ambitious goal. He also believes the support shown by Capitol staff and faculty played a key role in helping him achieve that goal.
“Not many schools will take the time to nurture a student who may not have had much experience going in,” he says. “My professors and advisors at Capitol were aware I might struggle at the beginning, but they were behind me all the way. Because of their support I was able to become a better student.”
Capitol also assisted with his career search as he finished the degree, putting him in touch with an employer that had hired Capitol graduates before and was impressed with the caliber of the university’s students. He quickly landed the job.
Now, as a cybersecurity professional, Zenas has a new perspective on his master’s degree education. Capitol, he says, was able to prepare him for real-world challenges because courses in the program are taught by professors who actually work in the field.
That amounts to a level of training that goes above and beyond what many other schools have to offer, he suggests.
“With professors who are in the field every day, who came from work to teach you, the element of experience is added,” he says. “That makes a huge difference. The textbooks are there to teach you the concepts, and then the professors are able to add to that with real-life scenarios and experiences. So you’re not just gaining knowledge; you’re learning how that knowledge can be applied in different situations.”
“Transferring experience into knowledge is not easy. The professors at Capitol are exceptional at transforming their experience into knowledge and meeting the student’s level of understanding. That makes the difference in generating future cybersecurity experts, and that is the specialty at Capitol,” Zenas says.
“I’ve come to appreciate this even more since completing the program and going to work,” he says. “Studying alongside professionals from the industry and taking classes taught by experts prepared me to fit into the industry. When I look at technical documents or when unexpected situations arise, I’m not nervous or flustered, because I feel I’ve seen and done this before. The master’s program prepares you not just to have a degree in hand but also to have the experience necessary to perform at work.”
With two degrees under his belt, and two challenges from his father successfully met, what’s next on the horizon? Zenas says he is looking at certifications and plans to begin studying for the CISSP, considered one of the major professional milestones in the field.
“Everyone should have goals, and be motivated by goals,” he says. “If you don’t have a goal, you’re never going to push yourself hard, because you have no endpoint to reach.”