Assistant Professor, College of Business
by John Smith - March 1, 2022
Acting on a personal desire to protect others often leads people to careers in law enforcement, health care or other forms of security, including the military. For Assistant Professor Molly Cooper, who assists Ferris State University’s Artificial Intelligence and Information Security and Intelligence programs in the College of Business, an extensive and continuing desire to learn and share her knowledge of cybersecurity serves her well in that regard.
“I wanted to offer protection, without having to resort to physical force,” Cooper said. “My sister inspired me by the Homeland Security roles she served in at Detroit Metro Airport. With what I learned, I realized I could also provide security to others.”
Originally from Bay City, Cooper began post-secondary studies at Delta College in University Center.
“I had an inspirational mentor in Ferris’ statewide program, Janelle Hemingway, who pointed me toward a ‘3+1’ program, to pursue my Bachelor of Science in Ferris’ Information Security and Intelligence program,” Cooper said. “I met Greg Gogolin and other instructors in the program and intentionally advance my learning goals.”
While she teaches her current course load in the ISI program, Cooper builds her understanding of AI through online instruction offered by the University of Texas-McCombs.
“We are in a demanding program, both in terms of our time investment and the focus it requires,” Cooper said. “As we begin Ferris’ Bachelor of Science program in this field, our instructional support in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning is essential so that we can be successful in offering students the latest information available in this emerging field.”
Cooper said the simultaneous exercise of being a student and instructor reminds her of what she has had to master in her pursuit of excellence in this area.
“It is another ‘convincer’ that having a particular talent or skill set suffices to succeed in this field, so long as you hold a great desire to use and build on that talent,” Cooper said. There are key contributors to cybersecurity teams who specialize in many areas. They are extremely valuable to the goal of excellent information security teams and should be respected, as such.”
Cooper also brings practical experience to her instruction, having worked at the Boyne Resorts in Northwest Lower Michigan as its information security manager, then serving as an information security analyst, compliance lead, and GRC (government, risk management and compliance) lead for Michigan State University.
“I do best when I have taken up practical applications of my learning, showing students what I have learned on the job as an aspect of my instruction,” Cooper said. “Taking a lifelong learner’s stance while gaining practical experience was important in my educational and professional development. I built up my inner focus and developed my skills as I entered my career in cybersecurity. I make it clear to my students that their route to success in learning and their profession may not necessarily be the same as the path I took, that they need to make a unique choice that suits their pursuit of excellence.”
She also started her teaching career in 2014 as she joined Ferris’ faculty in Information Security and Intelligence.
“Ferris is a unique institution, in that we have the latitude as professors to stay on the leading edge of understanding, as it relates to emerging technologies,” Cooper said. “I had acquired my Master of Science in ISI, followed by the pursuit of my doctorate from Nova Southeastern University in Florida, along with gaining a variety of certifications. I have to credit Professor Greg Gogolin, our program coordinator, who is so willing to enable our ideas. If we feel drones will further the learning process or making use of another technology will serve our instruction, the path is paved. This is available to us, through grants so we can acquire the technology to go where we need to, gain that understanding, to then apply what we have learned in our teaching.”
Students in the ISI program are taking up some very heady content. Still, Cooper said she agrees with her faculty peers in that making the learning fun, relatable and memorable greatly increases its value for their students.
“We offer them scenario-based learning modules, which we believe is experiential learning that engages and illustrates our objectives for the students,” Cooper said. “They are so adaptable, with amazing responses to presentations we use, like tabletop exercises. This allows students to present on their fictitious companies and explain their approach to address multiple cybersecurity issues at once. There are even prizes for the most successful responses, which is certainly more engaging for the student than a rote method of reading over, then reacting to a chapter in a textbook.”
Cooper also volunteers to support female students by serving as an advisor for the campus chapter of Women in Cybersecurity, a registered student organization.
“I found out about this organization while I was working at Michigan State,” Molly said. “We had three students take part in the 2021 WiCyS Conference in Denver last September, where I took part as a presenter. The networking opportunities for those students were fantastic, meeting with professionals and businesses. I feel they’re getting to see a panel of chief information security officers, all of them women is such a great example for our students. It is just awesome.”
Cooper said eight students are attending the WiCyS Conference, which takes place in Cleveland from March 17-19, where Cooper will again be a workshop presenter.
“This makes the second conference where our RSO has sent students to the WiCyS conference, which is a new direction and a most important opportunity for Ferris’ chapter,” she said. “We certainly want to encourage any underrepresented group by emphasizing the opportunities that are available to them, through programs in our college,” Cooper said. “Changes are gradual, and we certainly have more work ahead of us, both as a college and as a university. That change is happening, though, which I think is very cool.”
Time management is a soft skill that Cooper relies upon, as she also works as a consultant, addressing information security concerns for various clients.
“It is another way to feel like I am helping others,” Cooper said. “I know that offering
assistance to businesses and groups that need the expertise refuels me, as those efforts
help me to stay relevant as an instructor.”
Cooper’s talents extend beyond the academic and administrative to the artistic. She also produces musical content and voice work. Molly said this is just another method to stay energized for her other work.
Support from fellow ISI faculty has been beneficial.
“I am not alone, so far as the ISI faculty goes, in having something of a ‘secret
hidden talent’ we bring out, every now and again,” Cooper said. “My husband and I
have been able to produce music that has aired on ‘CSI,’ ‘Desperate Housewives,’ and
Disney shows like ‘Cloud 9,’ ‘Twitches’ and ‘Cowbells.’” We have over 200 examples
of music that one can hear in those productions. We also had a cover band, where we
played gigs at casinos and other venues, which is just part of my personal balance
Cooper added, “I like to recharge at home. Mancelona means I can be in a forested area, with lots of space for our dog, having a pond nearby with lots of frogs and fish. Nature and its creatures are a wonderful distraction. I tell students that these hobbies and interests are an important part of what they can be, as professionals. It helps them build perspective, and I believe makes them a better person and helps drive their individual talents.”
John Smith is a communications specialist for News Services and Social Media in University Advancement and Marketing.