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USF receives $5.2 million to bolster cybersecurity workforce

Mark Parker



The University of South Florida received a $3.7 million grant and $1.5 million donation to strengthen the region's cybersecurity talent pipeline. Photo: Wiki Commons.

A $3.7 million federal grant and a $1.5 million private donation will help the University of South Florida cement its status as a leader in cybersecurity education and workforce development.

A National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, the largest in program history, will establish the Cybersecurity Research and Education for Service in Government (CREST) program. An investment from a Boston-based tech company, announced just 11 days later, will create a cyber threat intelligence laboratory.

A Feb. 2 university release explained that the NSF funding would provide scholarships for at least 28 graduate and undergraduate students and help prepare them for in-demand and high-paying jobs with the federal government and other public institutions. Srinivas Katkoori, associate professor of computer science and engineering and principal investigator for the grant, said the CREST program will provide “tailored professional development and high-quality teaching and mentorship.”

In a statement, NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan stressed the importance of robust cybersecurity education in the digital age.

“As our reliance on the national cyberspace evolves, so does the complexity of the cyber threats we face,” added Panchanathan. “It is imperative that we support the development of a strong cybersecurity workforce to ensure we can all benefit from secure and trustworthy cyberspace.”

The interdisciplinary University of South Florida cybersecurity research team received $3.7 million from the National Science Foundation. Photo:

The grant will also bolster educational and research resources at the Florida Center for Cybersecurity, or Cyber Florida, housed at USF. Giti Javidi, a professor at the Muma College of Business and director of the Information Assurance and Cybersecurity Management program on the Sarasota-Manatee campus, said the Department of Homeland Security supports the CyberCorps scholarships and CREST program.

While the NSF award is the largest federal cybersecurity grant between the Tampa and Sarasota campuses, Javidi, a co-investigator, said it would allow students across the entire Tampa Bay region “to aspire toward cybersecurity careers in the federal government.”

According to the release, the CREST initiative is unique as it will focus on the intersection of cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. It is also interdisciplinary, and professors will select students from 12 degree-offering programs within the College of Engineering and Muma College of Business to participate.

They will then receive extensive coaching and mentoring from former military and civilian industry leaders, and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will provide career placement assistance. USF is one of just nine universities recently selected to participate in the nationwide program.

Business professor Manish Agrawal is another CREST co-investigator. He said that USF’s cybersecurity educational programming, professional development services and federal, state and local internship opportunities would “establish a transformative community of practice to produce next-generation, national cybersecurity leaders.”

Students will also soon assess cyber threats from a new laboratory.

Corey Thomas, CEO of Rapid7. Photo: LinkedIn.

Officials with Boston-based Rapid7, which specializes in cloud computing risk and threat detection, announced a new partnership with university leadership Monday. A $1.5 million donation by the company’s Cybersecurity Foundation will establish the Rapid7 Cyber Threat Intelligence Lab.

According to the announcement, the lab will support interdisciplinary research efforts by faculty and students from four colleges and across multiple disciplines. The facility will offer hands-on learning opportunities, and students can gain real-world experience by tracking global threats.

Corey Thomas, CEO of publicly traded Rapid7, said the cybersecurity industry continues to face a growing global skills shortage. He said that underscores the need to foster and educate the next generation of leaders, and credited USF officials for “attracting and cultivating a rich pool of diverse and emerging talent in both faculty and students.”

The partnership will establish an interdisciplinary leadership foundation with a new College of Engineering director. The $1.5 million will also help create endowed faculty positions in four USF colleges, including the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Behavioral and Community Science, the College of Engineering and the Muma College of Business.

Robert Bishop, dean of the College of Engineering, called faculty and student access to real-world data and challenges “invaluable.”

“This use-inspired approach benefits both the industry and our students, as they are trained on practical, relevant issues that are difficult to replicate in academic settings,” Bishop said in a statement. “It solidifies our position as a leader in this critical field.”

The Rapid7 Cyber Threat Intelligence Lab will also work closely with Cyber Florida.





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