UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With a law enforcement career spanning more than 20 years and an established private investigations firm of his own, Ron Long could be considered an expert in the field of investigative work. Now, he’s pursuing a degree in security and risk analysis through Penn State World Campus to better understand how the internet is changing the dynamic of police and investigative work in the country.

Starting out in the Army as a military police officer in the 1990s, Long’s career path took him from active-duty military personnel to patrol officer and then to a detective working on narcotics and homicide cases. After decades working in law enforcement in California, Long decided to return home to Texas, where he continued to work in law enforcement as a narcotics task force officer and later a patrol deputy. He left law enforcement in 2012 and started his own private investigations firm, Access Investigations, LLC.

Since the firm was launched, it has grown to include investigators from both federal agencies and local law enforcement that are able to work a wide array of cases.  

“My company — we do everything from (investigating) traffic accidents to patent infringement to murder cases to the typical domestic and insurance surveillance cases,” Long said. “People think private investigation is like Magnum P.I., but we investigate all kinds of cases.”

As time progressed, Long realized the need for a greater understanding of cybersecurity and technology in an increasingly technology-reliant society. After recognizing that his firm was seeing an increasing number of cases revolving around cyberattacks and online deviance, Long realized that a degree focused on cybersecurity would mean more services that his firm could provide their clients.

“Every day you hear about a breach or some cyberattack,” he said. “Getting my degree in cybersecurity would fill that gap.”

When it came time to choose the best institution to meet his needs, he explored the resources he is entitled to as a disabled combat veteran through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA provided a list of leading institutions that offered cybersecurity-related degrees and provided support to pay his tuition.

Long was searching for schools that would provide him with a challenging and innovative learning environment, and he soon found that the College of Information Sciences and Technology was his top choice.

He added, “I wanted a challenging curriculum. I wanted my degree to be from a reputable university like Penn State.”

Now enrolled in the program, he prefers the online learning experience to the traditional brick-and-mortar classroom experience that most students want. He can stay at home to spend time with his family, work on hobbies like leather working, operate his ham radio, and run his private investigations firm.

He also serves as the vice president of the World Campus Tech Club, a student organization that helps to build connections between online learners and fosters a sense of camaraderie and mutual learning.

“What we’re trying to do is lessen the divide between World Campus and on-campus students,” Long said. “Having the club means that we can create a dialogue with each other and find out mutual interests that can benefit our learning.”

The group, which has grown to more than 120 members, does many of the same things that an on-campus organization would do. They hold webinars and talks with industry professionals, host cybersecurity and coding competitions, and facilitate meaningful professional connections between members.

“What’s really helpful is being able to communicate with other members and find internships and job opportunities,” Long remarked.

Long said it’s been a great experience and that the World Campus community is a supportive one. In one of his first-semester classes, he remarked, the professor would have weekly discussion lectures with students so they could ask questions, discuss the course content, and be directed to other helpful learning materials. He quickly realized how other online learners are eager to help their peers succeed in their classes.

“In another class where we were learning Java, I reached out to everyone asking if they understood the material and if they wanted to start a study group, and it ended up being over half the class joining the group,” he said. “It really helped with understanding the material.”

As he advances toward his degree, Long is excited to continue his educational experience while preparing for the future.

“It’s been great,” he concluded. “I’m proud to be a Penn State student.”