Dr. Kenneth A. William

Dr. Kenneth A. William

As cyberattacks become more powerful and frequent, N.C. A&T State University is again expanding its graduate-level cybersecurity program. A national initiative recently announced provides funding for the Department of Computer Science to expand enrollment in its master’s and doctoral programs. The growth comes just a year after the department admitted its first students at the Ph.D. level.

N.C. A&T will work with 12 other historically black colleges and universities and two national laboratories to grow the workforce of professionals, researchers and academics prepared to lead the nation’s defense against cyber-attacks.

The project will be funded by the federal Cybersecurity Workforce Pipeline Consortium, a program to spark interest in cybersecurity in students from elementary school to graduate school. The $25 million, five-year program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration. N.C. A&T will be involved at the master’s and doctorate levels. Graduates from the other colleges and universities will study and conduct research at the Greensboro campus. Research will focus on cyber-identity protection and privacy in addition to cybersecurity in general.

“The purpose of the research is to teach students the intricacies of cybersecurity,” said Dr. Kenneth A. Williams, principal investigator for the project and an associate professor of computer science. “This grant will help us teach more students.”

Williams said student interest in the field is growing and that job opportunities are abundant. The White House cites estimates of the demand for cybersecurity workers growing 12 times faster than the overall job market. Attacks like the recent hacking of Sony Pictures and other major corporations illustrate how high the stakes are.

“There are a tremendous number of cyberattacks going on these days,” he said. “We’re teaching our students what the dangers are and how to defend against them.”

A&T’s $1.6 million from the consortium will go largely toward financial support for the students in the form of fellowships and summer internships. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., and Sandia National Lab in Albuquerque, N.M., will host the interns. Both labs have a major stake in the subject, as they’re responsible for maintaining the security of the nation’s nuclear weapons. Both labs have hosted previous A&T computer science graduate students as interns.

In addition to the graduate programs, the department offers an undergraduate concentration in information assurance. It also includes cybersecurity modules at all levels of undergraduate study. The department conducts a high level of research in the field as well.

“We have the Center for Cyber Defense, which has been here for several years,” Williams said. “And we have the Center for Advanced Studies in Identity Sciences, which conducts research in identity science, cyber identity protection and privacy.”

In addition, the department has a research partnership with Guilford Tech’s Cyber Crime Technology program. The collaboration allows Guilford Tech students in that program and others to conduct independent and joint research in cybersecurity at the two A&T research centers. Williams will be working on the new graduate-level expansion with Dr. Anna Yu, professor of computer science and director of the department’s graduate programs. The lead institution in the consortium is Norfolk State University. A&T is the only North Carolina university involved and is one of only two historically black universities with a doctoral program in computer science.