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National Science Foundation grant will prepare USF students for cybersecurity careers

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded the University of South Florida a highly competitive grant to help prepare cybersecurity students for in-demand, high paying jobs at government and other public sector institutions.

The $4,460,826 grant is under the leadership of the Muma College of Business and College of Engineering and faculty members Srinivas Katkoori, Giti Javidi, Manish Agrawal and Nasir Ghani. The grant is for a period of five years starting January 2023.

The Cybersecurity Research and Education for Service in Government, or CREST, program at USF will recruit, mentor and provide scholarships to at least 28 graduate and undergraduate students to serve as cybersecurity professionals in federal, state, and local governments, and other public sector organizations, according to Javidi, a professor in the Muma College of Business and director of the Information Assurance and Cybersecurity Management program on the Sarasota-Manatee campus.

giti javidi

Giti Javidi is director of the Information Assurance and Cybersecurity Management program on the Sarasota-Manatee campus

“CyberCorps is a unique and prestigious scholarship for service program funded by NSF, co-sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security. We are honored to be among the nine institutions selected this year," Javidi said.

"We have a strong team of collaborators representing 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," said Ghani, a professor in the College of Engineering.

Employer demand for cybersecurity workers, who according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics earn annual median salaries of about $104,000, grew 2.4 times faster than the overall rate across the U.S. economy. Cybersecurity Magazine predicted in 2021 that there would be 3.5 million open positions in cybersecurity by 2025.

"Cybersecurity is one of the most important issues confronting society in the information age," said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. "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."

USF offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in cybersecurity, including the Information Assurance and Cybersecurity Management degree program at the Sarasota-Manatee campus. USF prepares cybersecurity graduates with classroom simulations and experiential learning opportunities and builds feedback from industry partners into its programs. Faculty who have worked in the cybersecurity field stage exercises such as malware attacks in which students use real-world tools to find solutions.

"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," said Agrawal, a professor in the Muma College of Business.

CREST scholars will receive extensive coaching and mentoring on public service ethos from former military and federal civilian leaders, as well as from agencies and members of a unique Advisory Council.

The CREST program will aim to award 50% of the Scholarship for Service, or SFS, scholarships to women, veterans and members of other groups historically underrepresented in computing.

“We are grateful for the generous support from NSF. We are eagerly look forward to starting this exciting project,” said Katkoori, an associate professor in the College of Engineering. “USF’s SFS 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."

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