NSF Grant Renews Cybersecurity Program in Eller College

Oct. 18, 2019
Cybersecurity students

A program in the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona that is training the next generation of cyberspace defenders will continue, thanks to a $3.6 million grant renewal from the National Science Foundation.

The university is a participant in the national CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service program, which offers students significant financial support in exchange for government service following graduation.

“CyberCorps has been called the West Point for cybersecurity education for government,” says Hsinchun Chen, Regents Professor of Management Information Systems at Eller. “We train students who eventually will be the cyber defenders for the country.”

“This is critical infrastructure,” Chen says about the types of systems students would be protecting. “This is banking; this is intellectual property. Anything you can think of—the drones, the weapons—they are all internet-enabled. They all have cybersecurity threats.”

The two-year program, known as the AZSecure Cybersecurity Fellowship, covers tuition and fees for graduate students and provides a stipend of $34,000 per academic year.

About 30 students have taken advantage of the program, which began at the University in 2013 with NSF funding of $5.3 million. The renewal funding will allow the program to help a total of about 20 more students over the next five to seven years.

Chen said that among the 77 institutions involved in CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service, the University of Arizona is considered a “top-of-the-line” school, with a graduation rate of 95 percent. Of those graduates, 100 percent have been placed in government positions.

The fellowship, Chen said, is an important asset both for students and for the public agencies that recruit the students. Students receive high-end training, financial support, research experience and a pathway to careers at high-profile agencies such as the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the CIA.

Sagar Samtani, who completed the Scholarship for Service program and received his doctorate from the university in 2017, is performing his government service as an assistant professor at the University of South Florida. As a faculty member in the information systems and decision sciences department, Samtani has helped lead teams that have attracted about $300,000 in cybersecurity research funding from the NSF.

“SFS creates win-win situations in which students conduct high-impact, emerging research directed by UA SFS leadership,” Samtani says. “In exchange, students receive the skills, knowledge, resources and tools to be successful in a highly dynamic and rapidly changing cybersecurity workforce.”

In addition to conducting research on emerging cybersecurity topics and analytics practices through the UA fellowship, Samtani said he helped build the University's first cyberthreat intelligence course and had the opportunity to travel to national and international cybersecurity meetings.

“The University of Arizona plays a key role in keeping our nation’s most critical cyber assets protected,” said UA President Robert C. Robbins. “Hsinchun Chen and his team teach students at the cutting edge of cybersecurity education and research. This funding from the National Science Foundation will allow the University of Arizona to continue to graduate students who are ready to lead in this important and ever-evolving field.”

Chen’s team of UA faculty members included Salim Hariri, professor of electrical and computer engineering; Mark Patton, management information systems senior lecturer; Beichuan Zhang, associate professor of computer science; and Susan Brown, APS Professor of Management Information Systems.