Auburn awarded $4.7M grant to prepare cybersecurity professionals

Published: September 06, 2017
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Auburn University has been awarded a $4.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation to help address a shortage of public sector cybersecurity professionals.

The award is part of NSF’s CyberCorps Scholarship for Service, or SFS, program that provides students with scholarships and stipends to fund their education in a cybersecurity field in return for service to a government agency after graduation.

A longtime participant in the SFS program, Auburn plans to use the new grant to expand its involvement in the program, recruit students from underrepresented populations and raise cybersecurity awareness in Alabama communities.

“In recent years, there have been many high-profile cyberattacks on our nation’s institutions, underlining the importance of Auburn’s education and research initiatives in this area,” said Christopher B. Roberts, dean of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. “This funding from NSF will support our work in preparing the next generation of cybersecurity professionals so they are capable of addressing this ever-evolving threat.”

Auburn’s SFS program is open to undergraduate and graduate students studying computer science, software engineering, computing engineering, wireless engineering or electrical engineering. The program is overseen by David Umphress, the COLSA Corporation Cyber Security and Information Assurance Professor and director of the Auburn Cyber Research Center, and Dean Hendrix, associate professor of computer science and software engineering.

“We try to give students real-world, hands-on experience so they are able to perform cybersecurity functions by the time they graduate,” Umphress said. “Every summer, they have to participate in an internship at some type of public employment, such as the Department of Homeland Security, NSA, CIA, FBI or places like that.”

Faculty encourage the students to pursue additional cybersecurity certifications outside the classroom. In addition, graduate students in the program conduct research in an advanced cybersecurity area with the goal of producing a publishable paper of relevance to public agencies.

Auburn’s SFS team will work closely with the Alabama Power Academic Excellence Program and 100+ Women Strong within the College of Engineering, as well as Auburn’s Office of Accessibility and Veterans Resource Center to ensure at least half of the scholarship recipients come from underrepresented populations.

Outside of the classroom, the grant will allow Auburn to raise awareness of cybersecurity issues throughout Alabama.

“We're distinguishing ourselves from other SFS schools by embracing our land-grant heritage,” Umphress said. “For the next five years, we're going to be partnering with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System to try to work with the citizens of Alabama to better understand cybersecurity.”

Auburn is one of 19 National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations designated by the National Security Agency and has several research initiatives and centers focused on cybersecurity, including the Auburn Cyber Research Center and the McCrary Institute for Critical Infrastructure Protection and Cyber Systems.

More information about Auburn’s SFS program