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Two ECE Undergrads Receive Generous Financial, Educational, and Professional Support as Part of NSF CyberCorps Program

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Undergraduate students Patrick Sullivan and Eric Wybenga of the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department are members of the first "class" of seven UMass Amherst students to receive scholarships from the National Science Foundation’s CyberCorps program. Both students are Computer Systems Engineering majors. A team of cybersecurity researchers at UMass Amherst, led by computer scientist Brian Levine, received a $4.2 million grant from the NSF to bring a CyberCorps Scholarship for Service (SFS) program to the campus, the first public university in New England to receive such an award.

ECE Professor Wayne Burleson is one of the co-principal investigators of the SFS program, and Professor Dan Holcomb of ECE is one of the participating faculty members.

Graduate students such as Sullivan and Wybenga receive full tuition and fees per year, plus a $22,500 stipend, a health insurance reimbursement of up to $3,000, a $4,000 travel allowance, and a book allowance of $2,000. Graduate students receive the same amounts except for a larger stipend of $34,000 per year. In addition to financial benefits, students in the CyberCorps SFS program will receive support in extra mentoring groups, assistance in finding summer internships, other professional development opportunities, and permanent positions at federal and state agencies.

Only students from the ECE department, the College of Information and Computer Sciences (CICS), the Isenberg School of Management (ISM), and the Department of Mathematics and Statistics are eligible to apply for the CyberCorps program at UMass Amherst.

NSF's CyberCorps program, in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security, supports the educational and professional development of domestic students who will help the nation address threats to national security, including critical infrastructure such as utilities, water treatment, military defense systems, and refineries. Upon graduation and completing the CyberCorps training, students will join government agencies at full pay and benefits working in cybersecurity, such as the FBI, National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control, and analogous agencies at a state or local level.

Any government service involving cybersecurity fulfills the service requirement, ranging from protecting the nation's infrastructure from state-based hackers, to joining a state university as a researcher or educator in cybersecurity. The program, which will support a total of 28 students over the next five years, is admitting its first students in the fall 2016 semester.

As Burleson says, "Government agencies really need a program like this because they are competing with major tech and business corporations who offer very attractive financial and tuition incentives. The government needs that same talent and is trying to match recruitment. I think it's important to us as citizens to know that the government is seeking to retain the best talent in the field.”

Levine adds that "Meanwhile, as we train these SFS students we're building up a stronger program here at UMass, which benefits all students on campus. Many of the professional development events will be open to all. At the end of five years we will have trained 28 students who have advanced experience and skills in the latest cybersecurity techniques and approaches, and we will help to bring them into the government."

As related to cybersecurity, the ECE department offers courses in trustworthy computing, fault tolerant systems, and cryptography engineering, and is developing courses in IT security, network security, and embedded security at the graduate and undergraduate level. These courses will form the core of new B.S. and M.S. security tracks that SFS scholars will follow. ECE undergraduates can also focus on security through their choice of electives and the topics of their Senior Design Projects. In addition, the ECE and the Computer Science B.S. degree program offer about a dozen courses across the two departments. A range of other courses, supporting general knowledge in computing and engineering needed by a workforce in security, is also offered by both departments.

Besides their coursework, all SFS students will attend a monthly seminar with the twin goals of professional development and exposure to current topics in cybersecurity, as open to all interested, qualified students. Professional development will focus on topics relevant to work in government and government labs, supplemented by industrial and academic speakers covering operational and theoretical aspects of cybersecurity across the interdisciplinary spectrum it encompasses.

There will be a “Cyber Security Lecture Series” of about a dozen talks per semester, as presented by faculty in ECE, CICS, Math, and ISM and other external researchers, which introduces their security research to students.

All SFS students will be assigned faculty in three advisory roles: an academic advisor, a research advisor, and an SFS program advisor. Moreover, SFS scholars will participate in weekly research meetings, which will consist of readings on, and presentations of, current research (including their own) in cybersecurity.

Among other goals, the SFS program will create an academic community for its students that ensures their success through strong peer-mentoring, faculty advising, and academic and professional support. The SFS academic programs will address the multifaceted nature of cybersecurity by continuing to expand and integrating interdisciplinary material. The program will prepare students for successful careers in cybersecurity through a combination of strong curricula, ample professional development, extensive advising, interdisciplinary enrichment, and access to recruiting opportunities. Finally, the program will continue and expand UMass’s existing mechanisms to recruit and retain women and underrepresented minorities into our undergraduate and graduate programs.

By educating cybersecurity scholars across disciplines, the SFS program will help create a new generation of professionals and researchers to address novel and challenging problems. By bringing together faculty from several academic disciplines who are already leaders in cybersecurity research, this program will create opportunities to open new areas of inquiry across fields and generate new perspectives on difficult problems. (September 2016)