In January, Detective Jeff Lomas of the Las Vegas Metro Police Department flew in from Vegas to attend commencement and become the first recipient of Wilmington University’s master’s degree in Cybersecurity.
While the 2,500-mile trip to Philadelphia International Airport was a long one*, his journey actually began even farther west — in the central California town of Hilmar, population 5,197.
At Hilmar High School, Lomas ran track and cross-country and played basketball. He also found time to play the clarinet in the school band. Among his bandmates was Rebecca Lawton, who played the flute and oboe. “She was very good,” says Lomas.
The two became friends and after graduating in 1995, they stayed in touch through the ensuing years, even as Lomas struggled a bit to find his career path. He joined the Army Reserve and worked at several jobs while taking some college courses. Then he caught on with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, on the truck rental side of the business. After several promotions and transfers to locations throughout California, he was transferred to Las Vegas in 2005, where he became branch manager.
In the meantime, Rebecca Lawton had arrived at Wilmington University, where today she serves its Criminal Justice Institute.
Although his career with Enterprise was going well, Lomas didn’t see the vehicle rental business as a lifetime passion. “When I turned 30,” he says, “I started thinking about the future and wondered if I would look back 20 years from then and see the positive influence I left in my immediate hemisphere. The answer was no. It came down to what influence I had on this world. I began thinking about what I could do, and it always came back to law enforcement.”
He soon scratched that itch, taking the exam for the Las Vegas Metro Police Department (LVMPD). “I don’t know how you would study for a police exam, it’s basically common sense, and I did well,” Lomas says.
The next step — deciding to enter the police academy — was huge. Because he was at a top position in his private sector job, becoming an entry-level police officer would equate to a 50 percent pay cut. But Lomas didn’t hesitate. He quit his job, entered the academy, made some economic adjustments to his lifestyle (no eating out, no cable TV), and graduated in 2009.
As he began to get a feel for police work, his future within the department came into focus. He decided he wanted to pursue the growing area of digital forensics, a science that encompasses the recovery and investigation of information found in digital devices, often in relation to computer crime.
“I had always played around with computers, but digital forensics wasn’t a thing in the ’90s, and I never thought of what I was doing in terms of a job,” he says.
As a member of the LVMPD, however, he began to grasp the possibilities. “From what I saw,” he says, “law enforcement was lagging behind the criminal element in this area and I wanted to use my prior knowledge and aptitude with technology to help solve that problem. I like to solve problems and take on new challenges, and the field of digital forensics is chock full of that.”
First, though, he had to pay his dues in the department. He served five years as a patrolman, then was promoted to detective, where he worked for one year, primarily on property crimes.
Meanwhile, he kept his eye on the forensic lab and spent two years preparing himself, taking cyber security courses online and receiving a bachelor’s degree in Intelligence Management from Henley-Putnam University. Four years ago, a spot opened up in the lab, he applied, passed the test, and was assigned to LVMPD’s 15-member digital forensic lab.
There, he works on cell phones, computers and other electronic devices to produce evidence on various cases. “We handle computer forensics, mobile forensics, vehicle forensics, drone forensics, video forensics, and everything in between,” Lomas says. “We execute search warrants on the devices and perform analysis on the data. We also author search warrants on data sources like cloud providers. Our caseload has exploded over the past three years and we anticipate double-digit growth in the future.”
As his experience in the lab grew, he started thinking about a master’s degree in order to become, as he says, “a more well-rounded practitioner.”
And that’s where his high school classmate and fellow band member came back into the picture. “Jeff earned his bachelor’s degree the same time I began teaching at Wilmington University,” says Lawton. “We would discuss topics he was working on in class, and I sensed his desire to move further in his education. I encouraged him to consider WilmU for his master’s because I knew our faculty would understand his needs and prepare him for his next professional adventure.”
Lawton put him in touch with Dr. Anthony Carcillo, now dean of the College of Technology, and Lomas soon was enrolled in WilmU’s online Information Assurance program.
That was in 2016. By early 2017, Lomas had developed such enthusiasm for the program that he and Dr. Carcillo began discussing the possibility of customizing some courses around cybersecurity. After chatting with Lomas, says Dr. Carcillo, “I began to think that this had the makings of a whole new program. It had legs. That’s how the program got started.”
Dr. Carcillo subsequently worked with Dr. Mary Ann K. Westerfield, who was then dean of the College of Technology (now dean of Arts and Sciences), and Dr. Sheila M. Sharbaugh, assistant vice president, Academic Affairs, to develop the Cyber Security master’s program, which comprises 12 courses.
In the meantime, Lomas’ fervor proved catching, and four of his colleagues in the digital forensics lab enrolled in WilmU courses. As a result, they also earned master’s degrees in Cyber Security in January.
Lomas was the only one who attended commencement, however. He brought his wife, Mariana, and their two boys, Tristen, 14, and Parker, 1½. Lomas is quick to credit his wife for playing a major role in his academic achievement.
“She had the patience of a saint and shouldered more responsibility so I could do things like research, write papers, and otherwise be unavailable to my family,” he says. “She knows how grateful I am for this, but we did it because we have a shared belief in the importance of education and that this master’s degree would ultimately benefit our family in the long run.”
Naturally, during his visit to Wilmington, Lomas got together with his high school classmate. Lawton took the Lomas family on a tour of Old New Castle, topping it off with dinner at Jessop’s Tavern, the 300-year-old restaurant on Delaware Street.
Lomas says he and his family enjoyed their visit, although the Las Vegas resident found January in Delaware a bit colder than the California and Nevada winters he’s accustomed to.
But his academic experience at WilmU was all positive. “I was exposed to some new concepts, such as project management and disaster recovery planning; I got a 4.0, and, of course, I got to see Rebecca again.”