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CyberCorps®: Scholarship for Service Program Trains Future Cybersecurity Workforce

Threats to the nation’s information technology infrastructure are real. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has partnered with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create the CyberCorps®: Scholarship for Service (SFS) program to support educational efforts in cybersecurity to produce the workforce that will defend against these threats. UT Dallas is one of 58 institutions participating in the program. UT Dallas’ efforts are led by Dr. Kamil Sarac from the CS department as Principal Investigator for the “SFS program at UT Dallas”. The program, that has been operating at UT Dallas since 2010 is designed to increase the number of information assurance professionals available to work in maintaining and defending the nation’s critical information infrastructure

The DHS/NSF program provides funds to universities for student scholarships in support of education in areas relevant to cybersecurity. Scholarships cover the typical costs that full-time students may incur during the last two years of their educational program. In return for their scholarships, recipients must agree to work for a federal, state, local, or tribal government agency in a position related to cybersecurity after graduation. SFS students are also responsible for securing internships at the same agencies during their academic careers. Such internships provide students with ‘real world’ experience during their educational years and also provide prospective employers an opportunity to get to know the student prior to making a permanent job offer.

UT Dallas has been designated a National Security Agency/Department of Homeland Security Center for Excellence in Information Assurance Education and Research. The UT Dallas Computer Science department offers advanced and up to date educational cybersecurity programs; an undergraduate level certificate program, a minor in information assurance, a graduate level certification program, and a graduate level concentration track program in information assurance. UT Dallas CyberCorps® SFS students are becoming experts in high-demand areas such as malicious code analysis. Students learn practical aspects of computer systems during hands-on labs, including binary code analysis, kernel internals, malware unpacking, and library interposition to transparently harden software. UT Dallas CyberCorps® students are involved in active research and have published numerous papers in prestigious journals and conferences.

To date, sixteen students have graduated from the program and are successfully working for either federal, state, or local government organizations in positions related to cyber security. Alumni of the SFS program have gone on to work at agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), MITRE Corps, and the Center for Internet Security. Currently, there are twelve students enrolled in the program.

In a parallel initiative, the UTD Computer Security Group (CSG) is a student club that works to involve the larger student body in all aspects of information assurance and computer security. Dr. Sarac serves as a mentor to the club. All SFS students are active members of the CSG and also serve as officers. CSG sponsored activities include crash courses in cybersecurity, weekly hands-on training classes (list of recent presentation topics), and cybersecurity competitions (full list of the cybersecurity competitions participated by the CSG). The UT Dallas SFS students also take part in community outreach efforts to provide awareness of cybersecurity to the general population.

Devin Wiley is a student in the SFS been program where he has completed a year of study. He will be spending the summer doing an internship at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. He is very pleased with his decision to join the SFS program. “Having an advisor in the area of cyber security is very beneficial to my educational progress. Looking forward, I hope to secure a full time position with one of the agencies where I will be interning.” James Williams is also an SFS student, finishing up his first year in the program and will be working at the Department of Health and Human Services over the summer. His goal is to do research at one of the national laboratories.

The Cyber Security Research and Education Institute (CSI) at UT Dallas hosted the 4th Annual Texas Cyber Security Awareness Week (TexSAW) on campus in the fall of 2014. The event attracted students from different universities in Texas who attended workshops to learn fundamental hands-on skills in cyber security including web security, system hardening and exploit development.   The UT Dallas SFS students also take part in community outreach efforts to provide awareness of cybersecurity to the general population.  For example, on April 23, 2015 the first group of students visited the Rotary Club in Coppell, TX. Michael Muggler, Devin Wiley and James Williams gave a presentation titled “Web, Email, and Social Networks:  The Safety Tips You Need to Know” in which they gave useful tips on Facebook security, email security and the importance of two-factor authentication.

Dr. Janell Straach is an advisor in the SFS program. “SFS is such a unique opportunity for both the students and our nation.  I think of it as the Peace Corp from my days of youth.  I find students join for many reasons including financial incentive, the ability to learn the most current topics in cybersecurity, the opportunity to work at a government agency, and the chance to serve our country by securing its electronic borders.   The best part for me is getting to know the students and seeing them grow during their time here. In the fall these students will be returning from their summer internships and they will come back with such amazing experiences.”

The Department of Computer Science at UT Dallas is one of the largest Computer Science departments in the United States with over 1,300 bachelor’s-degree students, more than 1,150 master’s students, 150 PhD students, and 75 faculty members. UT Dallas is located in an area that is second only to Silicon Valley in terms of the number of high-tech companies that are housed there. The UT Dallas Computer Science department plays a vital role for this hi-tech industry by supplying graduates and interns as well as collaborative industrial research. UT Dallas Computer Science ranks as one of the top departments in the nation in terms of total number of graduates produced. The UT Dallas Computer Science department and the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science has made significant additional investments in the last few years in growing its infrastructure for cybersecurity education and research. This includes establishing the Cyber Security Research and Education Institute that houses the SFS program. The institute celebrated its 10th anniversary in October of 2014. UT Dallas identified the development of research and teaching programs for “making the nation secure” as one of its six strategic goals.

The program at UT Dallas has been renewed by NSF for another four years and is actively recruiting qualified candidates.

 

To visit the main CyberCorps®: Scholarship for Service (SFS) program site click here.

For more information on Scholarship for Service (SFS) program at UT Dallas please click here.

For Scholarship for Service (SFS) student FAQ click here.

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