FSU Department of Computer Science receives $4.2M NSF grant to bolster number, diversity of national cybersecurity workers

| Tue, 09/13/22
Photo of An-I Andy Wang and Xiuwen Liu.
Florida State University professors An-I Andy Wang and Xiuwen Liu.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that job openings for information security analysts are projected to increase 33 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average rate for all occupations. To help meet this growing demand, Florida State University’s Department of Computer Science has received a five-year, $4.2 million renewal grant from the National Science Foundation’s CyberCorps Scholarship for Service (SFS) program to support students pursuing careers in cybersecurity.

The department’s grant-winning project, “Defending the National Cyber Infrastructure,” aims to address the shortage of cybersecurity workers and improve diversity within the cybersecurity workforce. The project will provide scholarships, tuition waivers, and professional development funding to support 32 graduate and undergraduate students in FSU’s cybersecurity degree program. This renewal is tied to the initial grant, which first received funding from the NSF CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program in 2016.

“We are excited to receive the renewal from the National Science Foundation,” said Xiuwen Liu, computer science department chair and co-principal investigator for the project. “With the support from the deans, over the years, we have invested a lot of resources to develop, implement, and maintain a technically strong cybersecurity program to be able to educate very capable cyber professionals. This award allows us to continue to help address the work force shortage in cybersecurity, an issue of national security.”

NSF’s CyberCorps SFS program is designed to recruit and train the next generation of information technology professionals, industrial control system security professionals, and security managers to meet the cybersecurity needs of federal, state, local, and tribal governments. The program provides scholarships, funded by NSF grants, for up to three years of support for cybersecurity undergraduate and graduate education. FSU’s SFS-affiliated program is among the largest of the 90 programs at U.S. universities.

In addition to scholarships and academic stipends, students in the cybersecurity program will be presented with opportunities to explore internships with qualifying agencies over the summer to gain real-world work experience. Scholarship recipients agree to work in cybersecurity-related positions with the U.S. government upon graduating, for a period equal to the length of their scholarship.

"As cyber threats continue to evolve in complexity, so must our approaches to cybersecurity education and our work force," NSF director Sethuraman Panchanathan said in a press release announcing the SFS grants to FSU and other institutions. "The cybersecurity talent shortage remains a critical issue in the United States, with businesses and government agencies alike struggling to fill critical cybersecurity positions. These new CyberCorps Scholarship for Service projects engage diverse student populations and provide innovative and high-quality educational experiences that will ensure our nation is prepared to meet future cyberthreats with a well-trained work force."

A portion of the grant will go toward research into the factors influencing students to work in the government sector and ways to encourage individuals from underrepresented groups to major in cybersecurity. The grant will also allow the department to purchase necessary software and test beds for security penetration testing, which give researchers the ability to replicate real-world settings to identify potential blind spots within cybersecurity systems.

“This grant will boost the number of FSU cybersecurity students and FSU’s visibility in the cybersecurity field for the next five years,” said computer science professor An-I Andy Wang, the principal investigator for the project and a new member of FSU’s scholarship management team. “It will also provide support so that a number of FSU computer science students can obtain a master’s in computer science, which will allow them to acquire more computer-science knowledge and enhance their employment opportunities after graduation.”

In addition to Wang and Liu, co-principal investigators for the project include computer science professors Mike Burmester, David Whalley, and Jie Yang, with NSF program managers Victor P. Piotrowski and Li Yang providing additional support. The group will coordinate with various parties, including government recruiters, NSF, and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to identify and engage the top students interested in cybersecurity to secure internships and careers within the federal government’s Executive Branch.

The grant funding represents a significant investment in FSU’s program and is expected to significantly boost the department’s capabilities and capacity to conduct research and attract funding from other sources.

“The grant also provides resources for the principal investigators to enhance their research, and therefore teaching, in cybersecurity. As a result, the students in our SFS program have the opportunity to do research on the next generation of tools for improving cybersecurity,” Liu said.

Liu added that the early career success of graduates from FSU’s cybersecurity program highlights the strength of the department and the university in the national cybersecurity landscape.

“Our alumni have been very successful, and they hold important positions at the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Laboratories, and large companies such as Google and Facebook,” Liu said.

To learn more about the CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program, visit nsf.gov.