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UTSA receives $5 million to support new cybersecurity education pipeline

UTSA receives $5 million to support new cybersecurity education pipeline

(Oct. 24, 2017) -- The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) has received a five-year, $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to create a multidisciplinary center fostering education and research at the intersection of cybersecurity and cloud computing. The Center for Security and Privacy Enhanced Cloud Computing (C-SPECC) will act as a pipeline to create well-trained professionals in the industry and strengthen San Antonio as a cybersecurity hub. The project is led by Ravi Sandhu, Lutcher Brown Endowed Professor of computer science and founding executive director of the UTSA Institute for Cyber Security.

Cloud computing allows computer processing resources and data to be shared on-demand on Internet-ready devices using privately-owned clouds or public cloud providers. The practice, which offers consumers simplicity, affordability and reliability, has grown quickly over the last decade. Security and privacy, however, remain a concern among researchers and other industry experts. Additionally, well-trained and innovative professionals are needed to strengthen the industry and take on the hundreds of thousands of industry jobs in the U.S. alone that are currently unfilled.

“For nearly two decades, UTSA has been a national leader in cybersecurity, a dynamic field that requires an equally nimble approach from academia, government and industry,” said UTSA President Taylor Eighmy. “Creating a place where UTSA can expand its cybersecurity focus and apply its vast expertise to cloud computing will enable the university to make meaningful contributions with a practical impact. The center will also give UTSA students an unparalleled learning opportunity to conduct research alongside the university’s nationally recognized experts in cyber, cloud, computing and analytics.”

Four UTSA colleges -- science, engineering, education and business -- will join the center. Other lead researchers will include Nicole Beebe, associate professor of information systems and cybersecurity and Melvin Lachman Distinguished Professor in Entrepreneurship, Guadalupe Carmona-Dominguez, associate professor of interdisciplinary learning, Ram Krishnan, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and Microsoft President’s Endowed Professor and Jeff Prevost, assistant professor of electrical engineering.

The goals of C-SPECC are to become nationally recognized for excellence in research and innovation in secure cloud computing, to increase participation among underrepresented minorities in high-tech computing and to pursue innovative research-based educational strategies for high school and college students.

To accomplish these goals and expand UTSA’s role as an urban serving university, the center will participate in an innovative UTSA-Northside Independent School District (NISD) partnership that broadens the university’s cybersecurity recruitment to the high school level. Through C-SPECC, the UTSA College of Education and Human Development will offer certificate programs to NISD teachers and students, who will become known as “C-SPECC Scholars.”

In the certificate programs, the NISD teachers will expand their understanding of cybersecurity and cloud computing, and how to teach it to high school students. Each semester, UTSA will offer a new course for teachers, to keep their educational approaches as fresh as possible to reflect the constantly growing and changing fields of cybersecurity and cloud computing.

High school students from NISD will be recruited to study cybersecurity and cloud computing at C-SPECC. The outreach program will give the teens an opportunity to try on security-related careers, engaging them as they consider areas of study to pursue in college and embark on college preparedness paths. These C-SPECC Scholars will participate in certificate programs that are tailored for their education level and will help build their interest and understanding of cybersecurity and cloud computing.

Four schools within NISD will participate: Business Careers High School, Earl Warren High School, William Howard Taft High School and John Marshall Harlan High School. UTSA will work with these schools to offer local industry internships and foster mentorships with leaders in cybersecurity and cloud computing, expanding the pipeline of local talent prepared for cybersecurity careers and strengthening San Antonio as a cybersecurity hub.

“Research estimates that the world will have 1.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs by the year 2020,” said Sandhu. “In addition to leading research at the intersection of cloud computing and cybersecurity, C-SPECC will play a critical role in attracting more youth to the profession. If we want to fill 1.5 million jobs, we need to begin recruiting smart kids and giving them the opportunity to experience a security career first hand.”

Rackspace, a San Antonio-based managed cloud provider, will recruit students from C-SPECC for internships and part-time employment and participate in coding "hackathons" to promote interest in the field.

"The importance of information in business, society and our personal lives will only continue to become more important. From financial or personal information to autonomous vehicles, businesses must be prepared to protect information and critical systems," said Dave Neuman, Rackspace’s chief information security officer. "It's critical to have the right people in place to help implement and strengthen a business' security plan, which is why we're excited UTSA has recognized this critical need for talent and invested in the Center for Security and Privacy Enhanced Cloud Computing to help educate and train students as San Antonio becomes a hub for industry-leading cybersecurity experts."

The National Institute of Standards and Technology and NSS Labs, an Austin-based security testing and analysis company, will similarly partner with C-SPECC.

In addition to its community engagement mission, C-SPECC will focus on shaping the theories and standards that advance secure cloud computing through academic and research programs in cloud computing protection, detection and policy technologies. Over time, these UTSA contributions will advance the way businesses, consumers and governments utilize the cloud as it evolves.

UTSA first identified cybersecurity as an area of strategic importance in 2001 and has since made considerable investments to grow its academic and research programs in security. Today, it is known for its expertise in cyber, cloud, computing and analytics and academic and research programs that are producing well-trained graduates to meet the public and private sectors' need for new and highly qualified cybersecurity professionals. Alumni of UTSA have secured jobs with industry, government and military employers such as Amazon, Microsoft, Rackspace, USAA, Raytheon, Booz Allen, the National Security Agency and the U.S. Army.

The Institute for Cyber Security opened the university’s first cloud computing research laboratory in 2008, which focused on sponsored research in secure cloud computing. In 2015, UTSA founded the Open Cloud Institute to support cloud computing and big data research and development. The 80/20 Foundation supported the launch of the institute with $4.8 million to support endowed professorships, faculty research positions, graduate student endowments and research funding. The institute’s researchers are helping the international business community improve its computing platforms through open-source hardware and cloud and big data technologies such as Open Compute, OpenStack and Software Defined Networks.

That same year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security awarded UTSA a $10 million grant to develop cybersecurity information sharing standards to facilitate collaboration between the private sector and the government. The creation of the UTSA Information Sharing and Analysis Organization is promoting secure, rapid and widespread information sharing that helps organizations detect and block increasingly sophisticated cyber threats, through the UTSA CIAS.

Today, UTSA is home to the nation’s leading cybersecurity program, according to a nationwide survey conducted by the Ponemon Institute. The university’s unique approach includes researchers in business, science and engineering who work in multiple centers and institutes focused on solving global security challenges in today's increasingly technological world: the Institute for Cyber Security, the Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security (CIAS), the Open Cloud Institute and the Cyber Center for Security and Analytics.

UTSA is ranked among the top four universities in the nation under 50 years old, according to Times Higher Education.

Joanna Carver

Learn more about the UTSA Institute for Cyber Security.

Learn more about the UTSA Department of Computer Science.

Learn more about cloud, cyber, computing and analytics at UTSA.

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University of Texas at San Antonio receives ‘transformational’ $40M gift

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