Cyber Corps enlists Florida State University students to protect national security

December 16, 2010

Nearly 60 Florida State University graduate students in computer science will serve on America's front line of defense in protecting the nation's information infrastructure from cyberterrorism.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $1.85 million grant to FSU's Department of Computer Science to provide funding for scholarships for about 15 students each year for the next four years in exchange for paid employment at a federal agency following graduation. Offered by the NSF and co-sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security, the Scholarship for Service program requires students to work for the government for a period equivalent to the length of their scholarship, typically two years.

"There is a critical national shortage of employees who are adequately educated and trained in the cybersecurity area," said Harris Professor Mike Burmester, the lead researcher on the grant. "The growth of the Internet and its infusion into nearly every aspect of our lives presents a target opportunity for adversaries. It is essential to develop new operational doctrines, cyberwarfare capabilities and trained professionals to maintain our national infrastructure including our banking system, stock exchange, power grid and military operations."

It's no surprise that the federal government turned to Florida State to help build the next generation of cybersecurity professionals, said Burmester, who also serves as director of the department's Center for Security and Assurance in IT (C-SAIT). The National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designated Florida State as a Center of Excellence in Information Assurance Education in 2001 and an Information Assurance Center of Academic Excellence in Research in 2009. There are only 38 U.S. institutions with both designations, and FSU is the only one in Florida.

"This grant reflects well on Florida State's national reputation in the field of information assurance and offers a tremendous opportunity for graduate students interested in serving the nation while pursuing careers in this field," said Professor David Whalley, chair of the computer science department.

For students, membership in the Cyber Corps -- that's the name given to those serving in the Scholarship for Service program as well as a similar program offered by the Department of Defense -- has its privileges. The scholarship provides a stipend and an allowance for room, board and books that totals nearly $20,200 per year in addition to covering the cost of tuition, not to mention a paid summer internship at a government agency.

Shay Ellison first became interested in a career in information security when his credit card information was stolen from the company's database. Now, he's earning a master's degree in computer science at Florida State as a Scholarship for Service recipient.

"I'm excited about working on some of the most groundbreaking and relevant security work in the country," he said. "I hope to one day do computer security consulting on my own or with a team specializing in this. Working with strong government programs in security will help me build the skills I need for this work as well as make many connections in and out of the government workplace."

Through a formal relationship with Florida A&M University, Burmester said the computer science department is making a focused effort to recruit students from underrepresented groups into the Scholarship for Service program. For more information about the program, including application guidelines, visit http://sait.fsu.edu/index_2010.shtml.

In addition to Burmester, professors Sudhir Aggarwal, Feifei Li and Xiuwen Liu are working on the grant as co-principal investigators. They will supervise and mentor students in the program and manage their summer internships.
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