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A Graduate-Level Co-op in an Emerging Field

January 04, 2016

Graduate student Akshay Finney has gained experience and knowledge in a burgeoning field and found a mentor at his co-op.

This is one of a regular series profiling Drexel students and their co-ops.

Drexel’s name is synonymous with its co-op program, but most people don’t know that graduate students in certain fields are encouraged to complete co-ops as well. These types of graduate-level co-ops are rare in the cybersecurity field as well, according to Akshay Finney, a second–year student in the College of Engineering.

“There was only me and one other entry-level co-op in our field, so it’s not very common. We like to think of ourselves as the pioneers of co-ops for cybersecurity,” he said.

Finney recently completed a co-op in the healthcare industry doing IT risk management at Meditology Services, a company specializing in healthcare IT security.

He found the position through a career fair held for Drexel students by the Steinbright Career Development Center. Meditology Services was one of the many companies that had set up a booth to meet with potential interns, and Finney hit it off with Brian Selfridge, a partner in the firm.

“We met for an interview and it all worked out,” said Finney. “Career Fair was a great place for meeting potential employers.”

As a graduate student co-op, Finney says his job was more like an entry-level risk management associate position. A large part of his job responsibilities was to evaluate security measures for health care providers to ensure they are compliant.

“I worked with the ethical hacking team, which meant I would try to break into the health care network and get personal health information. Then what we do is offer remediation plans to fill those gaps,” he explained.

One of the many projects that Finney was involved with on co-op concerned the security of medical devices.

As fans of Showtime’s “Homeland”series know, one plot line in the second season featured a terrorist who attempted to access to the Vice President of the United States’ pacemaker. The terrorist wirelessly gained access to the device and accelerated the VP’s heartbeat, ultimately inducing a heart attack that killed the Vice President.

That’s something that could happen in real life too, Finney said.

“It’s very scary. This arguably is a hospital’s weakest link, because there are myriad ways you can hack into a medical device,” he said. “Cyber security in medical devices is not a field that people are doing a lot in. The industry is very narrow.”

Finney, who had never worked in healthcare IT before, says that his co-op gave him a lot of exposure to this field, which will come in handy in the future, he thinks.

“There’s just so much here to do,” he said.

Now considering a future in healthcare IT, Finney has continued to meet up with Selfridge after his co-op. They meet about once a month to talk about some of the challenges of their field.

“It’s safe to say that Brian is probably my security guru,” Finney said. “He got me started on this journey.”

The next step, Finney says, is organizing a cyber security conference to unite the College of Engineering and the College of Computing & Informatics. As president of the committee planning the conference, Finney hopes to hold the conference in March. Already, the committee has the backing of the Drexel Graduate Student Association.

About the Drexel Co-op program: More than 98 percent of eligible undergraduate students at Drexel University participate in the co-op program, balancing full-time classes and up to three different internships during their time at Drexel. Students can choose from more than 1,700 employers in 33 states and 48 international locations — plus endless possibilities through self-arranged placements.