Cybersecurity Center receives $3.3 million NSF grant to boost Nevada workforce

The University of Nevada, Reno's annual Cybersecurity Conference attracts security experts, local and regional industries and connects with faculty and students.

The University of Nevada, Reno's annual Cybersecurity Conference attracts security experts, local and regional industries and connects with faculty and students.

Charting a direct path to a career in cybersecurity within the government sector, the University of Nevada, Reno's Cybersecurity Center will use a five-year, $3.3 million NSF grant to award scholarships to 23 students in the College of Engineering.

"We'll recruit current students right now, while we work to bring awareness to the program to potential students from high schools." Shamik Sengupta, executive director of the Cybersecurity Center and a professor in the College of Engineering, said. "Students majoring in Computer Science and Engineering with a minor in Cybersecurity are eligible for the generous scholarships."

The National Science Foundation CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program offers students as much as $50,000 per school year. Students who accept the scholarships return the favor by agreeing to work in cybersecurity jobs for federal, state, local or tribal governments in their chosen cybersecurity field for the duration equal to the years of scholarship they receive.

"Other programs have a narrow focus," Gi Yun, one of the leaders of the project and associate dean and professor of journalism, said. "Ours has a broader appeal in terms of public service areas. Through this program, we give students a public sector mindset and motivate them to serve the public."

With funding from the National Science Foundation CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program this project aims to educate students with the critical knowledge and skills needed to develop, operate, administer, maintain and defend an increasingly dynamic cyberspace.

The University of Nevada, Reno's Cybersecurity Center is the first in Nevada to be awarded this grant, and one of only eight in the country new to receive it this year. Under the direction of Sengupta since it was formed in 2014, the Cybersecurity Center has conducted research, done outreach into the local schools and grown to include minor degrees, a graduate certificate and a graduate program that includes a robust cross-section of colleges and departments at the University.

"The NSF review team was impressed with the multi-disciplinary nature of our Center," Sengupta said. "It's not just about computer science; for example we have political science, criminal justice, history, public health and journalism programs involved, to name a few."

Toward this end the project will build on synergistic collaboration among multiple disciplines affiliated with the University's Cybersecurity Center with its 30 members and nine disciplines.

A key project outcome is the development of the next generation of cybersecurity professionals who can bring an interdisciplinary approach that integrates attention to technical, political, legal, and behavioral issues into a practical, secure and dependable cyberspace.

The project will draw on students from a host of diverse backgrounds, with particular emphasis on recruiting and retaining groups who are underrepresented in the cybersecurity workforce such as women, minorities, first-generation/low-income students and veterans.

Participation of underrepresented students will be encouraged through partnering with the University's First-Generation Student Services Center, Women into Computer Science and Engineering student organization, and the National Center for Women & Information Technology and will focus on recruiting veterans by partnering with the University's Veteran Services.

The two-year scholarship program's pathway for students includes a summer internship program, a Capstone Research Project, hands-on experience with the Nevada Cyber Club, and applied technical skills with the Cyber Infrastructure Team, the Office of Information Technology or the Security Operations Center and Professional Certification Training with the Information Security officer and Cyber Club coach. There will be workshops for students on how to apply to employers, networking opportunities with potential employers, such as the FBI, DHS, DOD and other federal organizations – plus the summer internships and full-time employment.

"There's even a career fair with 600 employers for about 400 students nationally in the program– it's a great networking opportunity," Sengupta said.

The scholarship provides $25,000 per year plus $6,000 allowance for professional development and $13,000 for tuition expenses. In this first year of the grant, four students will be selected, the second year and third year six students will be selected each of the years and in the fourth year seven students will be selected. Nine of the students will be recruited for three years of scholarship support as part of the accelerated BS/MS program in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.

"This is a very prestigious award," Yun said. "Only eight new CyberCorp Scholarships for Service grants were awarded nationwide this year."
NSF is providing more than $29 million in scholarships over the next five years to those eight universities. These new grantees join the current 82 universities that are part of the NSF CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program, representing 37 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
"Being a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense played a huge role in obtaining the SFS grant," Sengupta said. "The designation is a validation of the strength of the program and the infrastructure around it. It shows that we are interdisciplinary and that we have a large number of administrative faculty that supports the program, plus the broad-based advisory council and industry partners that creates a successful synergy within Nevada."

While the Center in Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense designation is a validation of the strength of the program and the infrastructure around it, like the Cybersecurity Center and the Nevada Cyber Club, it also opens doors for students.

“Being a CAE-CD institution, which is awarded by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency, should attract students to the program," Nancy LaTourrette, deputy director of the Cybersecurity Center and lecturer in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering said. “The CAE-CD designation includes not only the core curriculum but also participation in cyber competitions, outreach, and security research activities. It is important to have this multi-pronged approach to give students a strong foundation and competitive edge in cybersecurity.”

The Cybersecurity Center is an interdisciplinary group of faculty who work closely with their industry partners and advisory board to develop holistic solutions to cybersecurity's technical and societal challenges. Since it began in 2014, the Center has generated more than $5 million of NSF funded research and started an annual cybersecurity conference, all of which helped to secure this Scholarship for Service program for the University.

"I am very proud of this accomplishment and particularly happy to see this center, that we started just a few years ago, doing so well with minimal resources," College of Engineering Dean Manos Maragakis said in a note to Sengupta. "Your dedication and exceptional leadership as well as the talent of all the faculty involved are the reasons. Congratulations and keep it up!"

The U.S. National Science Foundation investment is intended to increase the volume and strength of the nation's cybersecurity workforce to address the demand for dedicated cybersecurity professionals, particularly in government agencies,

"As cyber threats continue to evolve in complexity, so must our approaches to cybersecurity education and our workforce," said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. "The cybersecurity talent shortage remains a critical issue in the United States, with businesses and government agencies alike struggling to fill critical cybersecurity positions. These new CyberCorps Scholarship for Service projects engage diverse student populations and provide innovative and high-quality educational experiences that will ensure our nation is prepared to meet future cyberthreats with a well-trained workforce."


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