UA receives $4.6 million to begin cybersecurity training program

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 855 views 

The University of Arkansas will use a $4.63 million award from the National Science Foundation to establish a program to recruit, educate and train cybersecurity professionals.

The UA announced Tuesday (July 16) the five-year award will enable a multi-disciplinary team of researchers to establish the program, address a shortage of cybersecurity professional and train students for careers in government agencies. The program is expected to provide the knowledge and tools necessary to protect network and computer systems in three industries — cybersecurity, transportation security and critical infrastructure security.

“The federal agencies that support these industries — all critical to our nation’s security and economic health — understand that new cybersecurity challenges are met with an increasingly insufficient security workforce,” said Jia Di, professor of computer science and computer engineering and principal investigator for the program. “But people at these agencies also understand that our university, with its specific research strengths, is uniquely positioned to expand the pool of highly skilled professionals who can address these challenges.”

The Cyber-Centric Multidisciplinary Security Workforce Development program will draw on faculty research expertise in the departments of computer science and computer engineering, electrical engineering and industrial engineering. Faculty will design curriculum focused on cybersecurity in the areas of computer and information systems, transportation and critical infrastructure with a focus on the electrical power grid. The program will provide job training and research opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students, and students will be offered internships at government agencies and might lead to job placement after additional training.

The program will focus on attracting students from underrepresented populations and will partner with the NorthWest Arkansas Community College to provide a path for students to earn bachelor’s and advanced degrees at the UA.

It’s also expected to address a nationwide shortage of cybersecurity professionals. Between September 2017 and August 2018, more than 300,000 cybersecurity jobs were available in the United States, Di said. The shortage has been a result of a lack of education, according to company professionals. To qualify for these jobs, students must understand computer systems, networks and software, data storage protection, cryptography, malware, software vulnerabilities, the nature of cyber-crimes and other infrastructure threats.

The program will be led by the Arkansas Security Research and Education Institute, which Di directs. It will include investigators affiliated with several research centers, including the Center for Information Security and Reliability, Mack-Blackwell Transportation Center and Cybersecurity Center for Secure Evolvable Energy Delivery Systems. Students will complete research at these centers.

Co-principal investigators include Brajendra Panda, professor of computer science and computer engineering; Alan Mantooth, distinguished professor of electrical engineering; Dale Thompson, associate professor of computer science and computer engineering; and Chase Rainwater, associate professor of industrial engineering.