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Sunday, May 21, 2006

UWS grad heads for prestigious computer security program

Peter Goetsch of Iron River, Wis., will receive his college diploma today and the opportunity to protect America's computers.

Goetsch, 31, not only graduates from the University of Wisconsin-Superior with a degree in computer science, but he also has been accepted into a highly selective national computer security scholarship program.

He will spend two years at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma learning to safeguard our country's computers.

In exchange for the federally funded education, Goetsch will work as a computer security expert for the government for at least two years after he receives his master's degree.

"I'm pretty happy about it," the South Shore High School graduate said. "It's a great opportunity for me. I am going to get paid to get my master's. I am just about guaranteed a job when I am done."

Goetsch is the third UWS graduate accepted into the program in four years.

UWS computer science professor Victor Piotrowski isn't surprised that another UWS student has won a Federal Cyber Service Scholarship for Service (commonly called Cyber Corps) award.

"It's more like a confirmation that we are on the right track than a surprise," he said.

At UWS, Goetsch set up security for the university's advanced computer lab, and worked with another student on a computer security research project. He carried a 4.0 grade point average while at the university.

"I look for people who have a passion for the subject," said Sujeet Shenoi, professor of computer science at Tulsa. "Grades are important, but grades are not the only thing. Peter is one of those guys who struck me as being passionate about this stuff and well trained.

"Another thing is I've had two very good students from UWS. I know what UW-Superior teaches."

The two UWS alumni who attended the Tulsa program -- Lucas Hendrickson, class of 2004, of Poplar and Mike Swanson, class of 2003, of Hibbing, both work in computer security for the federal government.

Shenoi directs the Cyber Corps program at Tulsa. Every year about 1,000 people apply for a spot there. About 35 are accepted, he said.

Nationwide, only about 150 students are accepted into the Scholarship for Service program each year, said Kathy Roberson, program manager.

The federal government created the program to increase the nation's number of highly trained computer experts, most of whom work with computer security. The program graduated its first nine students in 2002.

"We believe it's a real success," Roberson said. "We've had 416 students who have graduated."

Goetsch is looking forward to joining the ranks.

"I'll be right on the cutting edge," he said. "There will always be something new coming up. We'll have to come up with ideas faster than the hackers can or at least be able to shut them down shortly after they start."

Attacks on the Internet and computers have become common. According to the Computer Emergency Response Team/Coordination Center at Carnegie Mellon University, there were six such attacks reported in 1988. There were 137,529 attacks in 2003.

Because of the widespread use of automated attack tools, attacks against Internet-connected systems have become so commonplace that the center no longer publishes the number of reported incidents.

Protecting against such attacks is a vital job, Shenoi said.

"I tell my students, 'Make a difference, then make a buck,' " Shenoi said. "They can serve their country a few years, then join Microsoft or a beltway bandit. I tell them, 'Our enemies are willing to die for their cause, can't we at least work hard?' "

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