UNCP to offer Master of Occupational Therapy, Cybersecurity degree

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UNC Pembroke is expanding its academic landscape with the launch of two new degree programs––a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (MSOT) and a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity.

UNCP will introduce the undergraduate degree in cybersecurity this fall. Students can apply for the MSOT program in the 2023-2024 academic year. Classes will be offered in fall 2024.

Following a rigorous review process, the university received formal approval from the UNC System and the UNC Board of Governors.

“As an institution of higher education, our ability to develop academic programs that will transform the lives of our students largely depends on the efforts of our faculty,” said Provost Marsha Pollard.

“UNC Pembroke is fortunate to have faculty committed to expanding the breadth of academic offerings at the university and to the development of workforce-relevant academic programs that will prepare our students for the jobs of today and tomorrow,” Pollard added. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, cybersecurity and occupational therapy are two of the most in-demand professions and fastest-growing career areas nationally. Globally, the cybersecurity workforce needs to grow by 145% to meet demand and within the U.S., the workforce needs to increase by 62%. 

According to recent data by Cyberseek.org, there were nearly 600,000 cybersecurity job openings between April 2020 and March 2021. UNCP currently offers cybersecurity tracks with undergraduate programs in computer science and information technology. These programs have shown significant growth since their inception. The university’s enrollment in cybersecurity tracks within computer science and information technology has increased 119% since 2019 and 44% in the past year.

The new cybersecurity program includes a strong foundation in mathematics and computer science, preparing students for success in the cybersecurity curriculum. It will prepare students for information security jobs across various government, private and non-profit sectors.

Senior Anthony Vazquez was thrilled to learn a stand-alone program will be offered at UNCP.

"There will definitely be students interested," said Vazquez, who is pursuing an information technology degree concentrating on cybersecurity. "If I were a freshman, I would be looking into it. I wish it were here earlier."

"When I was in middle and high school, there was a big push towards computer science, but now there's a more centralized focus on cybersecurity, programming and coding."

Dr. Richard Gay, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said adding a cybersecurity major will provide excellent opportunities for students and the region.  

"The degree will provide pathways to lucrative and rewarding careers," Gay said. "Cybersecurity is an in-demand field, and we are delighted to help meet this need. I'm grateful to the Computer Science faculty and the team who worked diligently to bring this to fruition."

Dr. Selvarajah Mohanarajah, chair of the Department of Math and Computer Science, was among the faculty who helped build the program.

"There is a massive demand for cybersecurity professionals," Mohanarajah said.

“This major is built on a technical foundation of computing and IT and utilizes technology, systems, information, and people and processes to ensure secure cyber operations. The major is one of only two in the UNC System.”

Likewise, the employment of occupational therapists is projected to grow 16% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, the rate of occupational therapists per 10,000 population in the counties within the UNCP service region falls below the state average, underscoring the need for additional occupational therapists in rural southeastern North Carolina.

Occupational therapists practice in various settings, including home health care agencies, rehabilitation centers, hospitals, medical centers and long-term care facilities.

UNCP will be the only public institution in southeastern North Carolina offering a graduate degree in occupational therapy. The MSOT will prepare a health workforce that is already facing a shortage in southeastern North Carolina and is predicted to increase by an additional 17% by 2030.

"The College of Health Sciences is excited about the approval of the Master of Science in Occupational Therapy," said Dr. Cherry Beasley, interim dean of the College of Health Sciences.

In 2017, the state legislature commissioned the UNC Board of Governors to study the health care needs in southeastern North Carolina and how UNCP can address those needs.
Based upon the findings of this study, UNCP established the College of Health Sciences in 2018 and began the phased implementation of “a continuum of care designed to address the clear, present and persistent health factors and outcomes which have become a generational plague on southeastern North Carolina.”

This included the planning and implementation of a degree program in occupational therapy, among other health-related programs.

“The program's establishment moves the College of Health Sciences one step closer to fulfilling the recommendations made to the General Assembly,” Beasley said.

"We are looking forward to working closely with our community partners to design the program and provide exceptional learning opportunities for students and practice opportunities for faculty," Beasley continued.