Department of Defense awards Virginia Tech $1.5 million to prepare students for cybersecurity careers
The funding benefits multiple colleges and centers to create a significant source of value to students, faculty, and staff in the form of experiential learning, curriculum development, and research opportunities.
January 28, 2021
Nationally, there is a critical shortage of qualified cyber professionals, with approximately 500,000 cyber jobs available and more than 58,000 positions open in the Commonwealth of Virginia, according to Cyber Seek.
Virginia Tech has been awarded approximately $1.5 million to fuel workforce development in cybersecurity and related professional roles as one of six Department of Defense’s (DoD) Senior Military Colleges participating in the U.S. Cyber Command Cyber Leadership Development Program (SMC2I).
“The program provides Virginia Tech the opportunity to leverage our strengths and further expand the depth and breadth of our cybersecurity program to increase the pipeline of future military and civilian cybersecurity experts,” said Laura Freeman, principal investigator and research associate professor of statistics in the College of Science. “The program will engage faculty across four colleges and numerous research centers to tap into a wide range of backgrounds and resources critical to help shape the next generation of cyber leaders.”
Ehren Hill, associate director for education and outreach at the Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security and Technology at Virginia Tech, and Joseph Simpson, collegiate assistant professor of management in the Pamplin College of Business and director of Integrated Security Education and Research Center (ISERC) at Virginia Tech, are co-principal investigators.
“This funding brings together multiple colleges and centers at Virginia Tech to create a significant source of value to students, faculty, and staff in the form of experiential learning, curriculum development, and research opportunities,” said Simpson. “The ISERC is pleased to contribute its state-of-the-art resources and facilities for this endeavor to produce the next generation of leaders in cybersecurity.”
Freeman, who is a faculty member with the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) and director of the Intelligent Systems Laboratory at the Hume Center, said that Virginia Tech and the five other senior military colleges — the Citadel, the University of North Georgia, Norwich University, Virginia Military Institute, and Texas A&M — will work collaboratively on this national initiative.
For Virginia Tech, the Integrated Security Destination Area, an interdisciplinary group of faculty from the Corps of Cadets, Pamplin College of Business, College of Science, College of Engineering, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, CCI, the Hume Center, and other security related faculty, will work with Freeman, Hill, and Simpson to recruit undergraduate and graduate students for the program.
“The National Security Agency is excited to partner with Virginia Tech in the DoD Cyber Institute pilot program,” said Diane M. Janosek, the commandant of the agency's National Cryptologic School, which administers the program. “The multidisciplinary programs created by the six senior military colleges will build crucial leadership skills as well critical cybersecurity competencies for the cybersecurity professionals who will serve the nation as DoD civilians or as military professionals.”
Furthermore, Janosek said that the innovative pilot will “expand the pool of eligible and certified cyber experts who will protect and defend the nation’s national security posture."
The funds for SMC2I are part of a $10 million Department of Defense appropriation to the National Security Agency (NSA) that will work to identify and develop a diverse population of Virginia Tech students from various academic disciplines into technical experts and leaders in cybersecurity through five primary program elements:
Pipeline Programs – Virginia Tech will support pipeline programs that include mentoring, scholarships, experiential learning, and internships.
Experiential Learning – Virginia Tech will develop unique experiential learning opportunities that frame cybersecurity challenges in real world contexts and target programs that address the critical skill gaps identified by the NSA and DoD.
Curriculum Development – Virginia Tech will support curriculum development by mapping knowledge, skills, and abilities critical to the DoD and civilian cybersecurity workforce by working with relevant department heads to strengthen workforce readiness.
Program Development – Virginia Tech will develop a comprehensive student engagement program accessible to qualified students that will include a seminar series, student competitions, career days, targeted recruiting internship opportunities, summer programs, and cultural and language programs.
Enhancing Cybersecurity Research – Virginia Tech will conduct research in critical skills gaps areas identified by the NSA. Participation in paid experiential learning opportunities and scholarships will be open to students enrolled in a cybersecurity or related discipline who meet the eligibility requirements (U.S. citizen, overall GPA 3.0 or higher). Scholarships will be targeted toward the Corps of Cadets and encourage participation in a NSA/DoD sponsored (or approved) summer internship program.
Cybersecurity at Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech offers deeply technical and rich cybersecurity undergraduate and graduate degree programs encompassing 25 courses in addition to cybersecurity majors, minors, certificates, and an interdisciplinary minor. More than 60 world-class faculty conduct research in information security, network security, hardware security, and software security, and support hundreds of graduate students across multiple colleges, research centers, and institutes.
Virginia Tech leads two substantial cybersecurity initiatives with unique investments by the commonwealth that provide a strong foundation of cybersecurity education, expertise, and innovative research at the university.
The Virginia Tech led Commonwealth Cyber Initiative is a highly connected network that engages institutions of higher education, industry, government, and nongovernmental and economic development organizations that launched in 2020 with a $20 million investment from the state. The initiative connects regional nodes across the commonwealth, each led by an institution of higher education, which are designed to be vibrant centers of research, learning, and innovation tailored to their local ecosystem.
Also funded by the state of Virginia, the Virginia Cyber Range was created in July 2016 with the mission to provide resources for cybersecurity education to public high schools and colleges across the state in an effort to jump-start the pipeline of qualified cybersecurity experts needed to fill tens of thousands of jobs in Virginia. Since then, the range has grown to support 5,000 students and faculty at more than 200 high schools, community colleges, and universities in Virginia.
Virginia Tech is a National Security Agency Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research and Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations, and an Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence. The university participates in federal scholarship programs including the National Science Foundation and Office of Personnel Management’s Cybercorps Scholarship for Service and the Department of Defense Cybersecurity Scholarship Program.