Coastline Cybersecurity Student Joel Leifer Expands His Expertise Student Spotlight

December 08, 2021

At 66 years old, Joel Leifer has had a full career as an engineer working all over the country. Looking for a new mental challenge, he enrolled in community college classes. 

He faced one of his biggest challenges in his Cybersecurity class, when Prof. Tobi West at Coastline College offered her students a perfect score on their final exam if they passed the Security Plus test, which is one test that is required to obtain certification in cybersecurity.

Joel took the test and passed it. He said that achievement is a long way from his days as a C student at the University of Maryland. It’s all part of his goal to expand his knowledge about new fields.

“I like to learn,” Joel says. “Keeping my brain active will help me as I age. If I didn’t take classes, I’d probably sit in front of the TV all day.”

Joel, who was born and raised in Washington, D.C., is decades away from his previous schooling. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1979 and a master’s degree in aerospace engineering in 1989 from the University of Maryland. 

After that, his engineering career included working on a wide range of projects, such as aircraft carriers, Navy submarines, the Tomahawk missile, and the International Space Station. But when he was laid off in July 2020, he decided to try out community college.

He’s now taking 12 course credits – all online – at Coastline, Orange Coast and Golden West College while working full-time at a bicycle store. He said that particularly in Zoom sessions, the age difference between him and other students is rarely noticeable.

“Some of the younger ones have been asking me for advice on some things,” he says. “I help them out whenever I can.” 

He praised all his professors but said he has especially enjoyed his cybersecurity classes. The college has a club for cybersecurity students to prepare for a competition with other colleges on cybersecurity issues. 

“It helps us to polish our skills and get smarter,” Joel says.

Prof. West says the club is one of the unique aspects of the Cybersecurity program at Coastline because it helps students to work together and learn from each other. She noted that the Cybersecurity program is fully online – and was offered online even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced many programs to go virtual. 

On 2014, Coastline’s Cybersecurity program became the first California community college to receive a prestigious designation as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education from the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. 

The program attracts students who want to enter the field, along with students already working in cybersecurity who want to move up in their careers, says West. It offers stackable degrees and certificates, so students can earn additional degrees and certificates as they take more courses.

She says the program also attracts some students like Joel, who are interested in broadening their minds. “They want to have that knowledge, but they aren’t necessarily pursuing it for work,” she says.

Joel says that going to college in his senior years has been a more enjoyable experience than when he was an introverted undergraduate. 

“I’ve come out of my shell. I’m finding more help and friendship in my old age through doing this,” he says. 

His advice to other students? “It’s all up to you,” he says. “If you want to put yourself out there, there are people who will respond to you. It’s up to you to make it whatever you want to make of it.”