To expand STEM and critical workforce programs, UNC Wilmington will offer two new undergraduate degrees.

The university has received approval from the UNC Board of Governors to begin two new bachelor of science programs: cybersecurity and intelligent systems engineering. UNCW is the first institution in the UNC System to offer undergraduate degrees in those disciplines. The programs are slated to start in fall 2022, pending approval by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

The addition of the cybersecurity program will help to fill the significant workforce gap in the field. There are more than 464,400 open cybersecurity positions available in the U.S., including 17,660 in North Carolina, according to With more companies and governments becoming victims of cyberattacks, the need for highly trained individuals is more important than ever.

“Cyberattacks on our computing systems continue to threaten our personal security, government operations and professional activities,” said Provost James Winebrake. “This degree will provide North Carolina and the nation with necessary interdisciplinary and well-educated graduates who can address cybersecurity issues holistically.”

The intelligent systems engineering degree brings together computing and engineering disciplines and liberal arts to prepare students to succeed in an area that is becoming increasingly important for industry, government and society, Winebrake said.

“North Carolina and the nation require students who are educated in connecting our cyber and physical systems in novel ways,” he added.

Industrial sectors such as agriculture (precision farming), transportation (smart cars), medical devices (intelligent sensors) and government initiatives (smart cities) could benefit from the engineering skills and knowledge students graduating from this program would exhibit.

“The courses developed for these programs were designed to meet labor demands and growing industry needs for the 21st century,” said Ron Vetter, professor of computer science. 

Vetter, who was involved in the development of the undergraduate degree programs, noted that he expects considerable demand for these programs based upon significant student interest and the overall rising need for STEM skills in general. “By all accounts, the societal demand and employability of graduates from these degrees programs will be very high,” he said.

The new undergraduate degrees build upon current programs in place to address the workforce gap. In 2020, UNCW and Cape Fear Community College were awarded a $196,782 grant from the Department of Defense Cyber Scholarship Program to develop the UNCW–CFCC Collaborative Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Program. The program provides a work-based learning experience for UNCW cybersecurity students and an incentive for CFCC Cyber Crime Technologies graduates to continue their studies at UNCW.

That same year, UNCW was selected as one of 10 universities to participate in a pilot that has the potential to onboard future cybersecurity professionals. The university received funding to implement CyberStart, a program that helps identify, select, train and provide cybersecurity experience to students across the country. CyberStart was developed by the SANS Institute, a global leader in cybersecurity training and certification. The National Science Foundation funds the pilot.

UNCW launched its Center for Cyber Defense Education in 2018. The university is recognized as a Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education, a designation given by the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security. It offers a cyber defense education curriculum path.

The bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity is offered by the Department of Computer Science within the College of Arts and Sciences and the Congdon School of Supply Chain, Business Analytics and Information Systems within the Cameron School of Business. The intelligent systems engineering program is offered by the Department of Computer Science.