Although Brandon Walters enrolled in Boise State University’s online Master of Science in Cyber Operations and Resilience without any information technology experience, he is already nine months into a career in the field.
The United States Marine Corps veteran is a security analyst at Ferrellgas. He is on track to graduate in December 2023.
“I thought you needed an IT background to enroll in the program,” he said. “When I found out you don’t, it spiked my interest. I thought about it, reached out, and it worked out for me.”
Walters served in the Marines for four years, including more than one year as an infantry squad leader and range safety officer stationed in Hawaii. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Texas Permian Basin, where he made the dean’s list.
“When I was in the Marine Corps, I wanted to get my undergraduate degree done — I didn’t really care what it was in,” he said. “Once I realized I didn’t want to stay in the Marine Corps anymore, I was looking at my options for what I could do. Shea Hanson with Boise State admissions reached out and presented an opportunity.”
So far, the online format is working out well for Walters, who resides in Round Rock, Texas, deep in the heart of his home state.
“I work remotely, so it really helps me where I can transition over to school,” he said. “I am pretty much a self-taught person. They give me the assignments and I go research a topic or read.
“The master’s program is great because it’s reading the book, watching videos and getting some hands-on experience. The curriculum transitions over to what I do at work, so it makes a lot of things make sense.”
Onto the Grid
Walters is from San Antonio and comes from a military family. He began his college career as a math major at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He enlisted in the Marines in 2018.
“I always wanted to go into the military,” he said. “I was going to go into the Air Force, where a lot of my family members served; that’s why we ended up in San Antonio. The Air Force wasn’t for me.
“It crossed my mind a few times when I was getting out of the military, but I was going to go into law enforcement or a couple of other options. I told myself that I’d give the master’s program one semester, and if I didn’t like it, I’d switch to something else. I have liked it ever since.”
Since joining Ferrellgas in September 2022, Walters has immersed himself in learning about his new career field while adding higher education at the same time.
Signal and Digital Intelligence is his favorite course, so far, in the Master of Science in Cyber Operations and Resilience curriculum.
“We did a project where we had to come up with a scenario for hacking an industry with unlimited resources and then find ways to correct those vulnerabilities with mitigation efforts, which was a lot of fun,” he said. “I chose electric vehicle charging stations. The courses in the program have been great and definitely applicable to my job.”
Walters is also benefiting from the experience and knowledge of his classmates in the online program at Boise State. Walters noted the many students with networking backgrounds, who are filling managerial roles in cybersecurity and are looking to take those chief information security roles.
“When they do video presentations, you can tell that they are very knowledgeable. When you reach out to them and ask questions, you definitely get what you are looking for. You can open up conversations with them on discussion posts.”
Boots on the ground
Once Walters completes the master’s degree, he plans to be in Idaho to walk in the commencement ceremony at Albertsons Stadium.
“It will be my first time in Boise,” he said. “The blue turf is really cool. My family and friends think it’s fantastic that I am getting a master’s degree. They definitely see that I am busy all of the time, but they’re excited.”
As a military veteran, Walters had some extra incentive to remain in higher education after graduating with his bachelor’s degree in 2022.
“I definitely always thought about doing a master’s degree,” he said. “I knew that I would have the GI Bill, so if I stayed in the military, I would get tuition assistance to make my higher education free. It pays for all of it, plus I get a small stipend for books.”
Walters said that networking with classmates is one of the reasons he has learned so much and been so successful as an online student at Boise State.
“You should come into the program with an open mind,” he said. “Once you do, there are older students who are 20-30 years deep into the industry. Definitely reach out to them.”
Although he is just getting started with his career, Walters hopes to work his way up to bigger roles in the future. He believes that having a master’s degree will help open up those opportunities.
“Long-term, I’d like to be either a director of infrastructure or chief information security officer,” he said. “Getting hands-on experience with certain things, I feel like I am separating myself from others who also don’t have an IT background in the discussion posts. It’s been great.”
Learn More About Cyber Operations and Resilience
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