Brian Ray directs the Center for Cybersecurity and Privacy Protection at Cleveland State University College of Law. He also directs the online MLS in Cybersecurity and Data Privacy, which is a core piece of the center’s work. Last but not least, he is the Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Online Programs. 

Brian was joined by CSU student Zain Zafar, who is wrapping up his MLS degree this semester. Over the course of his studies, he moved into a new role within the cybersecurity and data privacy space as GRC (Governance Risk Compliance) Analyst at Netjets. Zain previously was a webinar guest to discuss his experience with CSU’s online MLS program. Now, he returns to tell us about how he advanced in his career since we last caught up with him. 

The CSU Student Experience

Zain became interested in cybersecurity and data privacy during his Senior Year at Ohio State University, where he took an information security course and “it opened my world to cybersecurity and how it involves all aspects of the business.” He graduated and eagerly started applying to cybersecurity jobs, but his first job in anti-money laundering actually ended up involving compliance as well.

The combination of cybersecurity and compliance led him to research graduate programs. “I wanted something that would combine compliance work with some legal aspects and then still give me a basic foundation in cybersecurity,” he says. He found everything he was looking for and more at CSU. Though he encountered other programs, the aspect that gave CSU an edge was that it encompassed both legal compliance course work (that aids in legal writing, analysis, and more essential real-world skills) and courses focused solely on cybersecurity that taught him the necessary technical skills. Other degrees tended to only teach one side of the equation or the other, and Zain knew he wanted a solid, lifelong knowledge base built on the strength of multiple disciplines. 

Life in the Midst of an Online Program

The online accessibility, convenience, and student-centered approach also made CSU’s program very achievable – which was especially important considering Zain’s full-time job. He also knew the coursework would be very relevant to his goals. 

Helpful features of the CSU program include eliminating the wasted time on commutes, being able to set and keep your own personal schedule when completing coursework, and using your own judgment to determine when you need to take additional time to study and when you need to take additional breaks. “I would say that the coursework is manageable,” he reports.

“When you initially start this program,” Zain advises, “don’t be afraid of the classes being too technical. The professors are very helpful and understanding.” Also, he and his fellow students were able to help each other out just as they would have in an on-campus degree program. 

CSU MLS Details

CSU’s program consists of 10 curated classes that are almost entirely asynchronous. “Asynchronous” means that you can complete these components at your convenience, whether 9:00am or 9:00pm, at home or on the road. A handful of live classes allow students the opportunity to really engage with and get to know their professor and fellow students. 

Generally, Brian recommends that students take two courses per semester for a total of 10 courses over 5 semesters. If that timeline doesn’t fit well with a student’s goals, though, Brian is happy to work with the student to adjust accordingly. This kind of flexibility is just one of the reasons why Zain chose CSU; take when he was busy getting married, for example.

How a CSU Degree Helps Your Career

In his new role, Zain’s primary work duties include cybersecurity trainings for new hires, as well as recurrent trainings for Netjet’s pilots and flight attendants. Zain’s multifaceted, deep knowledge of the different angles of cybersecurity and data privacy is an integral asset to the company. He also works on the cybersecurity specification policy and standards of compliance regulatory work. 

“Something I love about this field,” Zain concludes, “is that once I started working here my overall mood shifted. Every day I look forward to coming to work because this is the field that I have a lot of passion for.” He leaned on Brian, Spence Witten (another key CSU faculty member), and his mentors to propel him in the field.

The classes taken in the Master’s coursework apply to his practical job responsibilities and allowed him to understand both the general landscape and minute nuances. “When I was doing the interview process, I was confident in the work I could do. And once I landed the job, it was a perfect fit. At CSU, you gain a very strong technical background but you also know how to frame it and pair it with legal policy and writing.” Zain’s story and trajectory can serve as inspiration for current and aspiring CSU students: This degree is intentionally designed to help you take the next right step towards your career goals in data privacy and cybersecurity.