Keith O'Brien First Recipient of CSE Best Adjunct Professor Award

A Look into Professor Keith O'Brien's Course and Lab Design

Keith O'Brien

The Best Adjunct Professor Award is a new addition of the School of Engineering’s Computer Science and Engineering Department, but its first recipient, Adjunct Professor Keith O’Brien, is anything but. Professor O’Brien, who has worked as an adjunct at the School of Engineering since 2009, is committed to making sure the lessons of his work make their way into the classroom. This is accomplished through a combination of his own course design, his network security expertise, and his keen use of technology-enhanced education to keep students up-to-date with changes in the cybersecurity industry.

Outside of NYU, Professor O’Brien works both as a Distinguished Systems Engineer at Cisco Systems and as a Visiting Professor at the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT. A longtime specialist in software-defined networks, network forensics, and secure network design, he has written his own network security course for the Computer Science and Engineering Department’s cybersecurity program. Besides designing and teaching his own course, however, Professor O’Brien was also appointed by the president of NYU to consult the NYU President’s Committee on the Future of Technology Enhanced Education.

Professor O’Brien’s students are given an extra-current education because of how constantly revised his course is. “In a field where things are changing and evolving, in some cases on a weekly basis, I am constantly updating my course to make sure everything my students learn will be useful and relevant,” noted Professor O’Brien. Performing both instructional and consultation work for the United States Coast Guard Academy’s Annual National Cyber Defense Exercise (a joint event between various US military academies and the NSA), he is consistently dedicated to making sure new information and practices happening in his career are reflected in his course and lectures, making his work experience an invaluable addition to the Computer Science and Engineering Department’s program.

That dedication is also demonstrated in his constant push to make the course as interactive as possible. While the majority of it is delivered to students online, Professor O’Brien strives to build his lecture and interactions around replicating a live classroom experience. In creating the course, he is also instrumental in the structure and execution of its lab, where students have a chance to work with and learn directly from real-world network security scenarios. A major focus of the lab involves students hacking into networks as much as it does securing them.
These lab sessions are a big hit with his classes, as the opportunity to break basic network security systems presents a unique way to learn how to protect them. “This is something unique to the program—hacking into basic computer systems using simple methods to show off the offensive side of network security instead of teaching only from a defensive posture,” said O’Brien. “Students learn a lot by approaching network security from the other side.” That flexibility is a great opportunity for students when combined with Professor O’Brien’s continuing expertise.