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NPS’ Applied Cyber Ops Master’s Degree Turns Senior Enlisted into Cyberwar Specialists

The first cohort of enlisted service members to attend the Naval Postgraduate School’s Master’s of Applied Cyber Operations degree program, from left: Information Systems Technician (IT) Chief Deyan Dontchev, IT1 Thomas Skoff, ITC Javon Burden and ITC Rachel Doucet at NPS’ Ingersoll Veterans Memorial Exhibit.

Last September, a small group of senior enlisted Sailors came to the Naval Postgraduate School campus in Monterey, Calif., to embark upon an ambitious cyber operations graduate program designed to meet the Navy and Department of Defense’s growing need for trained cyber professionals. Those pioneering Sailors now find themselves just a few short months away from graduation, and follow-on assignments at critical commands across the Fifth Domain.

“A couple of years ago, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations asked us to look at creating an opportunity for enlisted service members to receive a master’s level education in cyber operations,” said NPS Cyber Academic Group Academic Associate Dr. Duane Davis.

The Master’s of Science in Applied Cyber Operations, or MACO, is the result of that effort, and is open to enlisted personnel with a baccalaureate degree and previous network operations experience. The four-quarter resident program combines classroom and extensive laboratory work, culminating in a comprehensive capstone project.

“The program allows our students to look at a different aspect of cyber than what they are accustomed to in their careers. Cyber is a team activity and our students are working together, particularly through their capstone projects, to expand their knowledge and capabilities,” said Cyber Academic Group Chair, Dr. Cynthia Irvine.

Increased opportunities in cyber education at NPS reflect the Department of Defense’s stated need to develop a cyber force capable of meeting future challenges in the cyber realm.

“The Department of Defense is expanding its cyber capabilities and is seeking to fill the growing need for enlisted cyber professionals. The MACO program gives enlisted personnel the skills that they need,” said Davis.

Information Systems Technician (IT) First Class Thomas Skoff of Charlotte, Iowa and ITC Eyan Dontchev of Monroe, New York are among the first four enlisted students charging their way through NPS’ MACO degree program.

“The opportunity to come here and get some advanced training is a big deal for us. We are an integral part of the development of the Navy’s cyber warfare capability … We will be leading junior sailors in the Navy’s cyberwar efforts,” said Skoff.

“We are here because the enlisted force has [gained] a lot of technical experience. We are the enforcers of cyber policy, and we are here to get the education we need so that we can serve in the trenches and put these skills to use,” said Dontchev.  

“We want to take the knowledge that we get here back to the fleet. The Navy is sending us to strategic commands within the Navy that will benefit from what we are learning here at NPS,” continued Dontchev.

“It’s an honor to be in the first group of students to participate in this degree program. The faculty here is very interactive and as the program develops it will only get better for the second and third iterations of students,” said Dontchev.

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