The Mount Rushmore State is home to the Sioux Nation tribes and features nearly one hundred miles of caves with unique glittering crystal formations. South Dakota is also home to state parks with free-roaming bison herds and six national parks, including the world-famous fossil beds of Badlands National Park. These natural wonders provide a beckoning backdrop for future forensic scientists.
Forensic science is a multidisciplinary field that blends criminal justice, science, law, and in the case of cybersecurity forensics, computer and information technology. State-level support for the field of forensics in South Dakota is strong; the South Dakota Office of the Attorney General provides support for a forensics lab which is fully accredited and provides scientific services to law enforcement officers throughout the state, including federal and tribal agencies, at no cost. Services provided in this state-run lab include biology, fingerprints, firearms and tool marks, trace evidence, and crime scene shooting incident reconstruction.
Three universities in South Dakota offer forensic science and cybersecurity degree and certificate options, although as of August 2019, none are accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). Please note that this is not necessarily reflective of program quality at universities in South Dakota since all have been regionally accredited by other reputable entities.
The need for forensic science technicians and cybersecurity analysts in the United States is growing and employment statistics show a promising outlook. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that forensic science technicians are experiencing a 17 percent rate of growth (2016-2026) which is much faster than the national average. In 2018, South Dakota employed 40 to 90 forensic science technicians, with the highest concentration of specialized careers for this occupation in medical and diagnostic laboratories, state and local government, architectural and engineering entities, and the federal executive branch of government (BLS 2019). The average salary for a forensic science technician in the United States is $58,230 and most positions require a bachelor’s degree.
By comparison, cybersecurity analysts earn an average of $98,350 a year and in 2018, there were 250 available positions in South Dakota, not including self-employed positions (BLS 2019). The cybersecurity field is experiencing a 28 percent rate of growth (2016-2026), which is much faster than the national average, and data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts that 28,500 cybersecurity analyst jobs will be created between now and the year 2026. Most entry-level positions in this field require a bachelor’s degree (BLS 2019).
For a detailed description of how to pursue employment in forensic science or cybersecurity in South Dakota, read on to learn more about career pathways and educational programs.
The majority of forensic scientists begin their careers by earning a four-year degree in natural science, chemistry, biology, or forensic science. Cybersecurity analysts typically earn four-year degrees from computer information technology programs that emphasize digital forensics. Here is a step-by-step pathway for students interested in pursuing a career in forensic science or cybersecurity in South Dakota with estimated completion timelines given for each step.
Step 1: Graduate from high school or earn a GED (four years).
A solid academic background in mathematics and physical science courses is recommended for prospective forensic science technicians and computer science courses are recommended for those interested in cybersecurity.
Step 2: Get a bachelor’s degree in forensic science, natural science, computer science, or a specialized related degree (four years).
According to Payscale.com, a bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for careers in forensics and some positions require a master’s degree. Most forensic scientists have academic backgrounds in biology, molecular biology, chemistry, biochemistry, genetics, and the interdisciplinary field of forensic science.
Step 3: Pursue an internship or apprenticeship in a forensic laboratory or information technology organization or firm (time varies).
Some employers prefer applicants who have prior professional experience in a forensic laboratory. Specializations in specific subfields of forensic science such as fingerprints, toxicology, controlled substances, firearms, trace evidence, DNA, or digital evidence can provide valuable on-the-job training and students can earn college credit or financial stipends through these opportunities. Employers seeking interns for cybersecurity are looking for applicants with experience using specific information technology security platforms and programming languages. A list of cybersecurity internships can be found at Indeed.com.
Step 4: Apply for professional licenses or certifications through regional or national organizations (requirements and time vary by state).
Requirements for licensing and levels of certification vary by state and may or may not be necessary for employment. The Forensic Specialities Accreditation Board (FSAB) has approved several professional certification boards, offering credentials in forensic anthropology, odontology, and toxicology, among others. According to Career One Stop, an organization sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, there are three available licenses for forensic scientist positions in South Dakota including licenses for polygraph examiners, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and EMT Advanced Life Support. Also, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (in partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology) has developed 31 unique cyber specialties and the FSAB offers a computer investigative specialist certification.
Step 5: Earn an advanced degree in forensic science or a related disciplinary field (optional; two to seven years).
Career One Stop reports that 12 percent of forensic scientists hold advanced degrees in forensic science, criminal justice, or a related discipline. Advanced degrees provide forensics professionals in science or computer science the opportunity to pursue an area of specialization, gain exposure to theoretical frameworks, and take part in research opportunities that can position degree-holders to be eligible for leadership opportunities and higher salaries.
When compared to the national growth rate of 29 percent, South Dakota is not far behind with a 27 percent rate of growth (2016-2026) predicted for positions in cybersecurity information analysts. Data from One Stop Career shows that 20 new forensic science jobs are needed every year throughout the state.
Three universities in South Dakota offer forensic science and cybersecurity information degree programs. While these programs are not accredited by FEPAC, as of 2019, they are in good standing with their institutional and regional accrediting organizations.
Located in Madison, South Dakota, Dakota State University offers several major and minor degree programs and a certificate program in cybersecurity forensics. Programs are offered in on-campus and online delivery formats.
On-campus associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs offered at Dakota State University include a bachelor of science degree program in network and security administration and a minor in computer forensics. An associate’s degree program in network and security administration is also available. Students in this degree program learn in virtual and physical laboratories and are taught through simulations using enterprise-level hardware, defensive hacking techniques, and network forensics. There are numerous on-campus networking opportunities and clubs including a CybHER chapter and network defense competitions.
The online degree program offerings are numerous at Dakota State University Online and include the following: an undergraduate certificate in cybersecurity, an associate’s degree in network and security information, bachelor of science degrees in cyber operations and cyber leadership and intelligence, a graduate certificate in ethical hacking, and master’s and doctoral degree programs in cyber defense. These degree programs provide theoretical frameworks and practical hands-on training relevant to the field of digital forensic science and information security. Degree program availability depends on the applicant’s state of residence.
Dakota Wesleyan University, located in Mitchell, South Dakota, offers a minor in forensic science and investigation. Combining social and physical sciences, the focus of this degree program is to explore the connection between scientific inquiry and the criminal justice system.
Coursework in this program includes an introduction to criminal justice, crime scene/forensic investigation, criminal investigation, three courses in university chemistry, and qualitative and quantitative analysis. The program features five faculty members and boasts a low student-to-teacher ratio with an emphasis on one-on-one interaction between students and professors. Graduates of this minor degree program typically go on to pursue careers in criminal investigation, forensic anthropology, and detective work.
The University of South Dakota in Vermillion, South Dakota offers a minor and bachelor of arts and science degrees in criminal justice. The bachelor’s programs include courses in criminology and law as well as fifteen credits of electives which can be fulfilled through internship opportunities.
Students wanting to double major in criminal justice and another discipline may do so by completing 33 semester-hours of criminal justice courses in addition to their second discipline. A common double major combination is a degree in criminal justice combined with one in political science. Students wishing to pursue the 18-credit minor degree option must take one required class and fifteen credit-hours of electives in criminal justice studies.
These programs feature faculty from a variety of criminal justice disciplinary areas and many have previous experience as probation or correction officers, prosecutors, and police officers. Students are encouraged to pursue specialization through advanced courses related to the historical, international, social, and legal aspects of criminal justice.
The University of South Dakota also offers an online master of arts in interdisciplinary studies. This unique degree option allows students who wish to study multiple disciplines to design their own curriculum in the absence of a specific degree program. Students interested in this option must follow the application guidelines and procedures outlined for this interdisciplinary degree program.
When deciding which forensic science program to pursue, accreditation is a key factor to consider. Accreditation can be offered by a discipline-specific, regional, or national organization.
Although the three universities offering forensic science programs in South Dakota are not accredited by the discipline-specific Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC), all three institutions are in good standing with the Higher Learning Comission (HLC).
As a final note, forensic science and cybersecurity professionals in South Dakota who have academic and on-the-job experience can pursue a number of certifications and licenses as proof of professional competency. Certifications and licenses vary by discipline and job position. The Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) features a list of ten organizations that award professional certification to individuals in forensic science. Accredited specializations are offered in the following areas: