Certifications in CICS are More Than Just Letters – Ryan Watts is an Example of That

Jul 01, 2021

Certification Crusher” was the subject line of the email that Dr. Steve Jones sent to the CICS faculty this week. The body?

“We have always encouraged our students to add an industry certification to their resume while they are here at the Center — with access to a number of Academies to glean information and get their hands dirty with labs. Pretty sure Ryan Watts has broken the record for number of certifications earned while in the program: AWS Practitioner, AWS Solution Architect, AWS DevOps, and Palo Alto Networks Cybersecurity Technician. He is the first student to take advantage of the Palo Alto courses offered for entry-level cybersecurity and use the voucher to take the exam. 4 certifications!”

Ryan Watts

Dr. Anna Stumpf, the coordinator for the online CICS program, remembers when Ryan attended a virtual information session a year ago this month. “Ryan had returned from China where he had been teaching. He felt his return home and the pandemic afforded him the opportunity to earn a masters degree. Like many students, Ryan was attracted to CICS because his background wasn’t in technology but he knew his future likely would be immersed in technology. Most students find us to be the perfect fit because as a professional masters program, we don’t expect or want you to be a technologist, we want you to be a generalist with the capacity to learn and lead.

Stumpf goes on to share that while CICS was the first university in the country to have a partnership with Amazon Web Services for cloud computing curriculum as well as partnerships with other industry partners, very few students enter the program intending to earn certifications while in the program. “Whether it is the media or just a paradigm, there is an ‘either or’ approach in the minds of people today. Many view certifications as an alternative to academia. I agree that there is definite benefit in that pathway for many people. However, we want our students to graduate and lead in technology because of their hearts and minds. We focus as much on EQ as IQ and on empathy as much as technology. So, when you earn a certification along with a course that involves a real world application and answers the ‘what does this look like?’ or ‘when would you use this?’ it makes a difference in your level of learning and confidence.

It just so happens that when you have a program that has so many options for electives students find themselves taking cloud computing, AI, cybersecurity and more tech related courses because our foundational courses build the level of trust and confidence they need to venture into those areas. In addition, many industry partners like AWS or Palo Alto work with our CICS faculty for developing their certification curriculum. Dr. Jones, for example, was one of the subject matter experts who worked on the new Palo Alto curriculum.

The involvement with industry partners enables our faculty to offer courses around much of the certification curriculum and then add the application and experiential learning layer to it that many miss in doing a certification course on their own. Because of the robust nature of the course and the certification many students who entered the program thinking that they would never pursue industry certifications while in grad school end up earning them because their level of confidence in what they are learning is such that they are exam ready.”

CICS has several students every semester who earn a certification during one of their courses which allows them to fill a need in their current role, gain momentum in their job search, or in the case of Ryan, develop a passion for learning and obtaining industry certifications because of the infinite options he will have in his future.

Ryan commented that he isn’t finished with certifications, “I also intend to get CCNA at the end of July. I think CCNA will be the hardest, but ICS 621 and ICS 691 help prepare me for it. I find the CICS program incredibly rewarding. I have learned more in the past year than in the last 10 years. Certifications are difficult but are made easier because they often include information learned in the CICS program. The Palo Alto cybersecurity course ICS 667 (Dr. Jones) helps to get a Palo Alto Certified Cybersecurity Entry-Level Technician (PCCET). ICS 649 with Dr. Groom also helped by introducing cybersecurity concepts. ICS 664 (Dr. Jones) AWS Cloud Technologies course helped prepare for the AWS Cloud Practitioner certification. The other AWS certifications also use some of this foundational material in their exams.

However, Ryan didn’t just rely on his CICS opportunities. This winter, during the holiday break from Ball State, Ryan took advantage of the Eleven Fifty Academy’s Winter Coding Experience. Indianapolis computer coding school Eleven Fifty Academy was able to take advantage of CARES money and partnered with seven state colleges to offer a five-week intensive coding boot camp tailor made for the long winter break schools had over 2020. Ryan’s certification from this bootcamp states: Earners of the Winter Coding Experience Badge have participated in learning the fundamentals of front-end web design with HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Python. Students pull data from APIs, manipulate the DOM, create repositories in Github.

Again, Dr. Stumpf marvels that less than a year ago Ryan Watts wouldn’t have known what any of those acronyms meant. But, in addition to a global pandemic, living life, and a full time nationally ranked masters program Ryan has now earned those letters. We are so proud that our students have the opportunity, the faculty and the experiences that they do in CICS to make these transformations possible; it benefits them for the rest of their lives.