Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas

How a Cybersecurity Course Paved the Way to Defense Department Job

John Morrison ’24 doesn’t know exactly what his parents do for a living – it’s classified. But he’s always been certain about one thing: He wants to follow in their footsteps.

“Growing up with them, it made me realize, I want to be just like them,” Morrison said. “They played such an important role in deciding what I wanted to do when I grew up.”

Answering questions around his post-graduation plans is already proving tricky. He’s able to reveal that he’s been hired by the Department of Defense as a software engineer. Just don’t ask him where he’ll be working.

“Yeah, I can’t tell you that,” Morrison said.

John Morrison Family portrait
John Morrison '24 (second from left) poses for a family portrait with his parents and siblings. A military family, Morrison moved with his family all over the country before coming to the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. (Provided)

Born in Alabama, Morrison moved across the country as his mother and father pursued careers in the Air Force. After stops in Florida, Nevada and Virginia, they eventually landed in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where Morrison graduated from high school. His mother, Col. Jennifer Morrison, has since retired but Lt. Col. Brian Morrison still works a top-secret job inside the Cheyenne Mountain Complex.

Inspired by his parents and their lives of service, Morrison has always wanted to serve in the military. But his exact path forward was a mystery until a cybersecurity course at St. Thomas provided the answer.

“Taking that class – going into websites and finding data files and cracking into them – I just thought that was so sweet,” Morrison said. “It was a career path in computer science that I thought could be really niche and cool.”

He quickly fell in love with information security, focusing his studies on advanced coding, building unique interfaces, and protecting data, all key aspects of cybersecurity. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), cybersecurity jobs will grow 32% through to 2032, which is much faster than the average across all other industries.

When a software engineering job was posted by the Department of Defense in fall 2023, Morrison knew he needed to apply.

“It’s the Department of Defense, the name kind of speaks for itself,” Morrison said. “The idea of defending our country against malicious entities like hackers, it just felt like a great opportunity.”

While the specific job details are confidential, Morrison can disclose some basic details. He expects to work on different algorithms to protect back-end systems for the military. Past that, don’t ask him to elaborate.

Morrison is one of hundreds of Tommies who will leverage their St. Thomas education to enter in-demand jobs immediately after graduation. In fact, 97% of Tommies are employed, enrolled in continuing education or participating in the military or a service program within six months of graduation.

Making the most of Minnesota and St. Thomas

It’s no secret that Morrison has been heavily involved on campus throughout his time at St. Thomas. He’s enjoyed the challenge of chess club, served as an orientation and Welcome Days leader, and secured a place in the record books as a member of the men’s track and field team.

A mid-distance runner, Morrison ranks eighth of all time at St. Thomas in the 800-meter run (1:52:40) and was recently named to the 2024 Summit Outdoor All-League Team (4x400-meter relay).

Men’s track and field head coach Pete Wareham played a significant role in recruiting Morrison to St. Thomas and has enjoyed mentoring the student-athlete over their four years on the track together.

John Morrison
John Morrison competes in the 800m event at the Joe Sweeney Invitational on May 1 inside O'Shaughnessy Stadium. (Collin Boyles/University of St. Thomas)

“Our team was very fortunate to have John – he’s become a reliable and valued team leader,” Wareham said. “Every team needs dedicated, intelligent and hardworking people like John. I truly enjoyed watching him develop and am thrilled for his achievements.”

Track and field wasn’t the only thing that drew Morrison to St. Thomas. A beautiful campus set on the banks of the Mississippi River helped seal the deal. After spending four years in St. Paul, he knows it was the right choice.

“It’s such a great state. There’s so much to do in the winter with snowmobiling and ice fishing, but the summers, wow, summer and time at the lake is what makes it great here in Minnesota,” Morrison said. “I definitely see myself coming back in the near future.”

A blur on the field, Morrison acknowledges that his college career has also flown by. Between track meets, computer science club meetings, and plenty of studying, it was a packed college experience.

Ready for a few weeks off before starting his new job at the Department of Defense, he advises future Tommies to take advantage of every moment on campus.

“You only get to do college once, so you got to make the most of it,” Morrison said. “Leave college with no regrets. If you get the chance to do something new, take it.”