IST receives $4.4 million grant to educate next cybersecurity leaders

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As a nationally recognized leader in cybersecurity education, Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) has been awarded a grant to expand the CyberCorps Scholarship for Service (SFS) program, an initiative undertaken by the federal government and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to recruit and train the next generation of cybersecurity professionals.  

The team overseeing the program includes Dongwon Lee, the principal investigator and associate professor of IST, Anna Squicciarini, associate professor of IST, Pete Forster, associate dean and SRA faculty member, Nick Giacobe, assistant teaching professor of IST, and John G. Hodgson, Applied Research Laboratory (ARL). Over next five years, the team plans to recruit and train up to 30 of the most capable undergraduate and graduate students from diverse programs across Penn State.

 “There is a big shortage of graduates with the right background that the government needs for cyber and information security,” Squicciarini said. “So the government is fulfilling this need by providing fast track opportunities for qualified students.”

This selective program provides a full scholarship for up to two years for undergraduate students and up to three years for graduate students. It also supports student placements into paid summer internships, a stipend, and allowance for travel to relevant cybersecurity conferences and competitions.

Students in the program gain unparalleled exposure to the field, emphasizing the technical and non-technical skills needed to succeed in the constantly-evolving and complex realm of cybersecurity.

“That’s why the NSF liked our proposal, because IST offers an interdisciplinary cybersecurity program,” Lee said.

Upon graduation, SFS graduates are required to serve in a government role, in any level or branch, for the length of time equal to the time of their scholarship. Job placements range across the federal government including the Intelligence Community and Federally Funded Research and Development Centers.  

“The federal government hopes this will become a strong pipeline for jobs within the government,” Lee said.

After fulfilling their initial obligation, Lee estimated that 75 percent of graduates remain in the government sector.

Said Lee, “Maybe they like the challenges they encounter, or maybe they are driven by patriotism. The bottom line is, they like the jobs they’re doing.”

Penn State is joined by a select number of institutions across the country in this program, which has been in existence for almost 20 years. Lee commented, “This is one of the most successful NSF programs ever, it’s very rare for a single program to continue for this long.”

With the broadening of the SFS program and the introduction of a new major in Cybersecurity Analytics & Operations, Penn State and the College of IST are poised at the forefront of the cybersecurity field.

Said Squicciarini, “We have the right expertise and understanding to keep contributing to this important mission.”

Said Lee, "With the ongoing data science and cybersecurity programs within the College of IST and across different programs at Penn State, in particular, our SFS program will look into the innovative ways to teach and research on the intersection of both fields, so called data-driven cybersecurity or security-aware data science. This will solidify IST’s position as a national leader in cybersecurity and data science."

Students are eligible after the second year of undergraduate studies from any major at the University. The next application window opens in March of 2018 when students should submit their application online to join the 2019 cohort.

Last Updated October 25, 2017