IUPUI lands $3.7M grant for cybersecurity degree programs

IUPUI has landed a $3.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation that the university plans to use to build its fledgling cybersecurity degree programs.

The school was one of eight universities to receive a combined $29 million in grant funding through the NSF’s CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program, which aims to increase the nation’s supply of cybersecurity professionals.

Feng Li, the chairman of IUPUI’s computer information and graphics technology department, said the grant will allow IUPUI to offer three years of full scholarship support for 25 students in the bachelor’s or master’s degree programs. Some of the grant money will also be used to support students’ professional activities, including things like conference attendance and lab equipment.

“It’s pretty significant,” Li said of the grant. “The cybersecurity students will be well-supported to finish their education and start their careers.”

IUPUI’s existing students will be able to apply for scholarships, Li said, but the university will also use the scholarships as a tool for recruiting prospective students to enroll. The school will focus its recruitment efforts on women and under-represented minorities.

IUPUI has offered a concentration in cybersecurity for about 20 years, Li said, but the university didn’t establish formal degree programs in the discipline until much more recently. Its master’s-level program launched in 2018, and the bachelor’s program launched last year. The programs use what Li describes as an engineering approach to cybersecurity, which means they put a lot of emphasis on research projects and hands-on learning.

Currently, about 36 students are pursuing a master’s degree in cybersecurity, and another 60 students are enrolled in the undergraduate program. Over time, Li said, the program would like to grow to about 100 master’s level students and 200 to 300 undergraduate students.

Including the eight new recipients, 90 universities have received funding from the NSF since the program’s launch. In previous years, Indiana University, Purdue University and Purdue University Northwest have also received funding.

In the big picture, the NSF program aims to help universities produce more trained cybersecurity experts—a specialty that’s in extremely high demand

“Right now, there’s just a huge gap between the demand and the supply of cybersecurity professionals,” Li said.  “Every state is demanding more cybersecurity workforce.”

According to Cyberseek.org, a website that tracks supply and demand in the field of cybersecurity, there were 598,000 cybersecurity job openings posted nationwide between October 2020 and September 2021, including just more than 6,000 openings in Indiana. As a point of context, the website also says 1 million people are currently working in the field of cybersecurity nationwide.

Cyberseek is a partnership between Boston-based analytics company Emsi Burning Glass, the Computing Technology Industry Association and the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education.

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