The National Science Foundation has awarded the University of South Florida the largest grant it has ever received for its cybersecurity program – helping prepare students for in-demand, high-paying jobs in the federal government and other public institutions.
Led by Srinivas Katkoori, an associate professor of computer science and engineering, the $3.7 million grant will establish the Cybersecurity Research and Education for Service in Government, or CREST, program, which will enable USF to recruit, mentor and provide scholarships to at least 28 graduate and undergraduate students and prepare them to serve as cybersecurity professionals in the federal government.
“Our program will prepare students for successful careers in cybersecurity through a combination of strong interdisciplinary curricula and research, internship opportunities, tailored professional development and high-quality teaching and mentorship,” said Katkoori, the principal investigator for the grant.
Co-investigators on the five-year grant are Giti Javidi, a professor in the Muma College of Business and director of the Information Assurance and Cybersecurity Management program on the Sarasota-Manatee campus; business Professor Manish Agrawal; and electrical engineering Professor Nasir Ghani.
"Cybersecurity is one of the most important issues confronting society in the information age," NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said. "As our reliance on the national cyberspace evolves, so does the complexity of the cyber threats we face. It is imperative that we support the development of a strong cybersecurity workforce to ensure we can all benefit from secure and trustworthy cyberspace."
The CREST grant will also allow USF to leverage education and research resources available at the Florida Center for Cybersecurity, or Cyber Florida, which is housed at USF, as well as affiliated federal and state agencies in the Tampa Bay region.
“CyberCorps is a unique and prestigious scholarship for service program funded by NSF and supported by the Department of Homeland Security,” Javidi said. “As the largest federal grant between Tampa and Sarasota, CREST will provide momentum for collaborative research and student mentoring in cybersecurity between the campuses. Most importantly, students across the entire Tampa Bay region will now be able to aspire toward cybersecurity careers in the federal government.”
USF is one of nine universities recently selected to join the program.
"We have a strong team of collaborators representing the Muma College of Business and College of Engineering. With the support of NSF, our team aims to create a new generation of diverse cybersecurity professionals and researchers to address novel and challenging security problems facing society," Ghani said.
CREST will be unique in providing research training and coursework for students at the intersection of cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. Scholars will be selected from 12 degree programs within the College of Engineering and Muma College of Business and receive extensive coaching and mentoring from former military and federal civilian leaders to foster a public service ethos, and career placement assistance from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
“With a goal of helping diversify the cybersecurity workforce, the CREST program will aim to award 50% of the scholarships to women, veterans, community college transfer and first-generation in college students, and individuals from other groups historically underrepresented in computing,” said Bernard Batson, an associate dean in the College of Engineering.
"In conjunction with USF’s cybersecurity-related academic programs, campus professional development activities, and federal, state and local internship opportunities, the CREST program will establish a transformative community of practice to produce next-generation, national cybersecurity leaders, "Agrawal said.
USF is a state and national leader in educating cybersecurity graduates with classroom simulations and experiential learning opportunities and building feedback from employers into its programs. Faculty members who have worked in the cybersecurity field stage exercises such as malware attacks, in which students use real-world tools to find solutions.