Coming off of the success of hosting the Women in Cyber Security (WiCys ) 2016 Conference in Dallas, Texas early last April, the UT Dallas’s Cyber Security Research and Education Institute (CSI) has established the inaugural Center for Engaging Women in Cyber Security, with Dr. Janell Straach as director of the center. “Dr. Janell Straach whose enthusiasm, commitment, and ongoing support for engaging women in cyber security and in the field of technology is an unparalleled force, will be a great asset as the director of the center,” said Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham, the Executive Director of CSI and founding director of the center.
During the summer of 2015, the founder of the Women in Cyber Security (WiCyS) Conference, Dr. Ambareen Siraj, of Tennessee Tech University, invited the UT Dallas Computer Science Department to host this major event in Dallas. Drs. Thuraisingham and Straach accepted this invitation to host, and together with the hard work of Ms. Rhonda Walls, the project coordinator at the UT Dallas Cyber Security Institute, co-chaired the event, which attracted well over 800 participants. The majority of the attendees were female. Support for the conference came from numerous organizations including Dr. Victor Piotrowski of the National Science Foundation (NSF), a significant advocate for this event and for the community female technologists, as well as from company and academic sponsors such as Facebook, Bank of America, Google, AT&T, Carnegie Mellon University, UT Dallas, National Security Agency (NSA), Raytheon, and CRA’s Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (to view the complete list of sponsors for WiCys 2016 Conference click here).
Dr. Siraj founded the WiCyS conference in 2014, “recognizing that there was a need for cyber security professionals and moreover, that the shortage of women in the field is significant,” observed Dr. Straach a UT Dallas CS Professor and a major supporter for women in the field of technology, as well a key player in building a supportive community for female technologists at UT Dallas and areas around North Texas. To address these needs, the WiCyS event initially brought together about 350 participants. In just three short years, the 3rd annual WiCyS conference, which took place in Dallas, TX, had more than doubled the number of participants to over 800 in 2016. “It was such a pleasure to see so many women eagerly participating in the conference events and learning everything all about cyber security, as well as building a strong community of fellow female cyber security specialists,” said Dr. Thuraisingham.
Soon after the conference, the UT Dallas Computer Science Department had the honor of hosting Dr. Maria Klawe, the first woman to lead the Harvey Mudd College since 1995, a highly respected researcher and a prominent advocate for promoting women in computing, as the final speaker for the 2016 UT Dallas CS Distinguished Lecture Series. During Dr. Thuraisingham’s discussion with Dr. Klawe, Thuraisingham spoke of the success of the WiCyS 2016 conference. Dr. Klawe, who applauded and congratulated both Drs. Thuraisingham and Straach for their continuous efforts in engaging female technologists, shared a few words of wisdom saying, “You both should make this a major mission for your Institute.”
The following day Dr. Thuraisingham conceived the idea to found such a center within the UT Dallas Computer Science department aimed at women in cyber security, and approached Dr. Straach to be the director. Dr. Straach, who was eager to further her passion of helping increase the number of females in the profession gladly accepted the position of center director. “When I saw what can happen at a multi-day conference, I knew I had to do more and continue these efforts 365 days a year, which is why this center is so important to the population of females in cyber security,” stated Dr. Straach.
The goal of the center is to organize courses, seminars, and exercises in the field of cyber security for women from all over the world, as well as to provide a sense of community amongst women in technology and cyber security. “In order to provide low cost and high quality education, which includes outreach summer schools and camps, as well as workshops, the center will seek industry funding along with government grants,” notes Dr. Thuraisingham. She continued, saying “Therefore we intend to work with UT Dallas’s Office of Business Development, as well as utilize our industry contacts to secure funds so that we can provide an excellent quality of education for women in areas that are of interest to them and that are in great demand. These students could be drawn from all age spectrums, starting with kindergarten and continuing through to seniors in high school, and ultimately all the way to college and graduate level students and even professionals who want to earn certificates in cyber security.”
ABOUT THE UT DALLAS COMPUTER SCIENCE DEPARTMENT
The UT Dallas Computer Science program is one of the largest Computer Science departments in the United States with over 1,600 bachelor’s-degree students, more than 1,100 master’s students, 160 PhD students, and 80 faculty members, as of Fall 2015. With The University of Texas at Dallas’ unique history of starting as a graduate institution first, the CS Department is built on a legacy of valuing innovative research and providing advanced training for software engineers and computer scientists.