Benjamin Brantley wasn’t looking to make history when he joined Middle Georgia State University’s charter class of graduate students.
Even now, after learning that by luck of alphabetical order he will be the first student handed a Middle Georgia State master’s degree diploma, the 24-year-old’s response is characteristically low-key: “Good.”
What’s better is Brantley’s confidence - shared by the other nine students about to earn MGA’s Master of Science in Information Technology – that a graduate degree will open up more pathways for his planned IT career.
“Members of this first class have really proven themselves,” said Dr. Kevin Floyd, MGA’s School of Information Technology chair and program coordinator for the IT master’s degree. “They tackled this degree in one year – and that’s quite an accomplishment. They’re going to be leaders in the industry and serve as excellent role models for Middle Georgia State, sending more students our way.”
MGA, the state’s newest public university, launched its first two master’s degrees in January 2016: the Master of Science in Information Technology, which offers concentrations in Information Security & Digital Forensics, Software Development and Health Informatics, and the Master of Science in Nursing - Adult/Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, designed to prepare RNs for advanced practice in a variety of acute/sub-acute care settings.
The University’s Office of Graduate Studies, led by Dr. Kevin Cantwell, dean, and Dr. Loretta Clayton, associate dean, is shepherding development of other master’s degrees and graduate certificate programs. About 85 master’s-degree-seeking students are currently enrolled at MGA.
The IT program is the first to produce graduates, with 10 students completing requirements this fall. (The Nursing degree will turn out its first graduates in summer 2017.) Five of the IT students - Brantley, Steven Fairfield, Heather Harper, Misty Kiernan and Casey Young – plan to participate in the December 15 graduation ceremony at the Recreation and Wellness Center on the Macon Campus.
Kiernan, who works at Middle Georgia State as a system support specialist, was so anxious to be a member of the first master’s degree class that in order to finish she paid out of pocket for more classes than her employee tuition assistance covered each semester.
“I can’t begin to describe what this program has done for me,” said Kiernan, who also holds a bachelor’s degree from MGA. “I’ve published research, presented at a conference and done so many other things that I couldn’t have done had I not gone for this degree. I’ve proven to myself that I could do something I didn’t think I could do.”
Most members of the charter graduation class chose the Information Security & Digital Forensics concentration of the master’s program. Students in that concentration build their knowledge in some of the IT industry’s hottest areas, including cybersecurity, cybercrime, digital ethics and disaster recovery.
“It’s been an intense year but I’m so glad I did it,” said Harper, who is the IT director for Lane Southern Orchards. “My undergraduate degree is in Business. I sort of came into an IT background through my duties at different jobs. Now I’ve got the degree to go with the background. I think that will open more doors for me.”
Fairfield, chief of the Rotary Wing Branch at Robins Air Force Base, is another member of the charter class who was already established in a career but wanted the educational credential.
“It helps me understand what the people who work for me in IT have to deal with,” said Fairfield, who also holds an undergraduate degree in IT from MGA. “Information technology permeates everything, including our (military) aircraft. It was painful for me to work full-time and go to school, but the education was addicting.”
Young, a cybersecurity liaison at Robins, said moving into the University’s IT master’s program shortly after completing his MGA bachelor’s degree in the same field was “an obvious choice.”
“I do feel like I’m at a turning point,” he said, “not just for being a member of the first class, but in studying a field – cybersecurity – that wasn’t really a major thing in government and business until fairly recently. Having a graduate degree that focuses on cybersecurity will kind of sell itself.”
He described graduate education as “less cookie cutter” than the typical bachelor’s program and said he relished the independence he felt pursuing the master’s degree, a feeling echoed by Kiernan.
“As an undergraduate you follow your professors,” she said. “In a master’s program you walk along beside them.”
And, in the case of these particular graduates, secure a place in MGA history.
For more information about Middle Georgia State University’s graduate programs, visit www.mga.edu/graduate-studies.
Photo: Five of the first graduates of MGA’s Master of Science in Information Technology plan to participate in the December 15 graduation ceremony. Left to right are Casey Young of Macon, Benjamin Brantley of Macon, Heather Harper of Byron, Steven Fairfield of Cochran and Misty Kiernan of Macon.