Protective Mom Says Security Technologies Degree Program is a Natural Fit | Technological Leadership Institute

Posted on
March 28, 2016
Marcia Cole

Some may know Marcia Cole as ‘Super Careful Woman.’

As a chaperone on her children’s field trips, Cole says she earned this nickname because she was extremely observant and always knew which kid would be the one to get hurt or fall off the dock and into the water.

Now Cole, whose children are grown, is capitalizing on her knack for keeping people safe by pursing a degree in the M.S. in Security Technologies at the University of Minnesota Technological Leadership Institute (TLI).

“When my youngest started college, it opened up a window of time for me to go back to school. I wanted to pursue security technologies, and the MSST program really fits me. It’s a natural extension of who I am.”

After two decades of working in IT at companies like Cargill, UnitedHealth Group and creative agency Periscope, Cole was hired at the University of Minnesota Supercomputing Institute (MSI) in July 2015. MSI provides hardware and software resources to faculty and researchers in food protection, healthcare and other disciplines. Cole says having MSST on her resume was what helped her get the job.

“I had healthcare security experience from my time working at UnitedHealth Group, but it was appealing to MSI that I was a student in the security technologies program.”

MSI also helps ensure the security of food shipments, and Cole’s found MSST’s food safety curriculum directly applicable to her career.  

“MSI is the only system in the five-state area to have an application that provides big data to help look at global food shipping,” Cole explains. “We can follow food all around the world from the time it is shipped to when it’s delivered. You need massive computer nodes to be able to wrangle that amount of data.”

Experienced faculty members, like Dr. Amy Kircher, were one of the main reasons Cole chose to enroll in the MSST degree program. Dr. Kircher is the director of the National Food Protection and Defense Institute, and leads MSST’s food protection component.

“I wanted a face-to-face program, and I wanted a connection to those who were out there doing work in the security area,” she explains.

What Cole didn’t anticipate was how connected she would also become with her classmates.

“I wasn’t expecting how great the cohort dynamic would be. It’s such a great experience. I’m the oldest in the class, and it’s not an issue whatsoever,” says Cole. “Each person brings skills to the group that others don’t have, so we all learn from each other. That’s also partly due to the instructors who help facilitate that.”

When she started the program, Cole says she had a fear of public speaking. But thanks to MSST courses like Communication of Risk and Security, she has been able to overcome it.

“[The degree program] has helped with my ability to consolidate information and present it verbally to a CEO or CIO through formalized role-playing in class. Those exercises have been very valuable.”

Though Cole has vast experience in the technology industry, she hopes after graduating from TLI, her credentials will give her the extra confidence to lead.

“I hope to be able to provide security foresight to the group in which I work,” she says. “I can tell them what I think right now, but I don’t have the credibility to back it up, and my MSST degree will give me that.”

Cole also serves as an mentor to other women in the industry. She is a member of Geekettes, a worldwide organization that facilitates relationships between women in the technology sector. Cole says the organization is close to her heart because she believes women like herself are especially suited to succeed in the profession.

“Women are hardwired for disaster-thinking, so security technologies is a great fit,” she says. “We can get a foothold in the industry and really climb.”

For Cole, the Technological Leadership Institute is helping her pursue her passion for protecting people, but she says TLI has something for everyone.

“TLI has great resources. If you’re interested in technology leadership, there’s no way you can lose. You can study anything within the realm of the industry.”

The MSST degree program offers students like Cole the flexibility to continue working full time while completing the program in just 14 months. View the full curriculum to find out how skills learned in the Master of Science in Security Technologies can elevate your career.

When my youngest started college, it opened up a window of time for me to go back to school. I wanted to pursue security technologies, and the MSST program really fits me. It’s a natural extension of who I am.

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