UH Receives $1.5M Grant to Prepare Future Cybersecurity Workers

UH Receives $1.5M Grant to Prepare Future Cybersecurity Workers
NSF Scholarships Provide Training to Protect Government’s Information Infrastructure

Scholarships for Service: Increasing Talented Trusted Computing Professionals
Computer science professors Weidong Larry Shi, Rakesh Verma, Ernst Leiss and Shou-Hsuan Stephen Huang are leading an effort to train students in cybersecurity. (Photo by Chris Watts)
With breaches in data on the rise, cybersecurity is a growing concern. The University of Houston has been awarded a $1.5 million CyberCorps grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to train students in this increasingly important area of national security.

Called “Scholarships for Service: Increasing Talented Trusted Computing Professionals,” the grant is designed to attract a broad group of students for cybersecurity training and research. Administered through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the congressionally mandated CyberCorps Scholarship For Service (SFS) program is aimed at increasing and strengthening the cadre of information assurance professionals who protect the government’s critical information infrastructure. SFS scholarships are given to full-time students and funded through NSF-awarded grants.

The project addresses a critical need for cybersecurity professionals by preparing students to assist in securing, protecting and defending the nation’s information systems upon graduation. It also will address the need for more women and underrepresented minorities in cybersecurity.

“Our goals with this project are to attract talented graduate students from any computing field interested in cybersecurity and build a community of well-qualified scholars in this area to then successfully place in government organizations,” said computer science professor Rakesh Verma, who is the primary investigator (PI) on the grant. “We will provide them with both theoretical and applied experiences in cybersecurity, as well as increase research, education and diversity in this field.”

Poised to meet the demand for students trained in cybersecurity, the UH computer science department has the knowledge base, with faculty already actively teaching a variety of courses in security as part of the present curriculum. This grant will allow for the creation of more courses toward developing a new degree track specifically to prepare cybersecurity professionals for the workforce.

Initially targeted toward graduate students, the plan is to establish a new track on security in the computer science master’s program within the next year. Once that is in place, a Ph.D. track will be introduced and, ultimately, a bachelor’s degree track, as well.

In addition to receiving training in cybersecurity, students will gain experience in IT support and resilience. To supplement the coursework, they will be required to do theses and dissertations, as well as internships and research projects. Once students graduate, they will be required to work in a federal, local, state or tribal government agency for the same number of years they received the scholarships.

“Government agencies are constantly attacked for information and denial of service, so they’re eager to hire people who are trained in security,” Verma said. “Our students will help them with their cybersecurity, IT infrastructure and resilience needs. This is an incredible opportunity for our students, because once they get this kind of experience in a government agency, they will be invaluable to private employers, as well.”

UH is one of only 64 universities that are current NSF awardees under this program, with an opportunity for continued funding if the program succeeds. In addition to Verma, co-PIs on the grant are professor Ernst Leiss, assistant professor Weidong Larry Shi and professor Shou-Hsuan Stephen Huang.

- Lisa Merkl, University Media Relations

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