Wright State receives federal grant to launch National Pathway to Success cybersecurity training program

Fathi Amsaad, assistant professor of computer science at Wright State, is the principal investigator on a new cybersecurity training program supported by a National Security Agency grant. (Photo by Erin Pence)

Wright State University received a federal grant to lead a new national cybersecurity training program for students from community colleges and underrepresented groups.

Wright State is collaborating with four-year universities and community colleges from around the country to launch the National Pathway to Success program through a new Cybersecurity Academic Consortium and Career Bridge for Minority and Community College Students.

The project is supported by a two-year $704,000 grant from the National Security Agency, with the potential for a third year of funding worth $332,000, for a total of $1,036,000.

Fathi Amsaad, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science at Wright State, who is the principal investigator on the grant, said the project seeks to meet the national demand for skilled cybersecurity professionals.

The National Pathway to Success program will expose students to topics in cybersecurity, including network security, information assurance, software protection, artificial intelligence-enabled cybersecurity, hardware-oriented security for system verification, resilience and trust. Students will develop the skills needed to work in the areas of cyber defense, cyber threat hunting, system risk analysis and trusted hardware.

“We aim to educate and train community college students and prepare them as a workforce to protect our national security against new cybersecurity attacks targeting our military, businesses, critical infrastructure and intelligent system applications,” Amsaad said.

The consortium includes seven four-year institutions: Wright State, the University of Cincinnati, Kansas University, Sacred Heart University, Florida International University, the University of Texas El Paso and California State University, Sacramento; and six community colleges: Sinclair Community College, Clark State Community College, Columbus State Community College, the Community College of Rhode Island, Miami Dade College and El Paso Community College.

The institutions are designated National Centers of Academic Excellence (NCAE) in Cybersecurity, a collaborative cybersecurity educational program with community colleges, colleges and universities managed by the National Security Agency’s National Cryptologic School. NCAE-designated institutions provide programs suitable for training students for careers addressing cybersecurity challenges in government and business.

The National Pathway to Success program is focused on supporting community college students, female students, first-generation college students, Native Americans, and students from historically Black colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions.

Participating universities and community colleges will offer workshops, seminars, competitions, new credential-bearing certificates and new pathway courses. Classes will be offered online allowing students from around the country to participate.

These initiatives will increase the rigor and relevance of existing cybersecurity programs and help make it easier for community college students to transfer to baccalaureate degree programs at four-year institutions if they choose.

“Throughout the program,” Amsaad said, “we will develop a relevant curriculum to increase cybersecurity awareness and engagement among minority community college students about core academic and technical skills, recognized post-secondary credentials, and academic degrees that provide participants with the knowledge and skills necessary to gain employment in high-skill, high-wage and in-demand fields.”

Amsaad also hopes to expand the program to help other institutions join the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity and participate in the National Pathway to Success program.

Wright State’s College of Engineering and Community Science offers several cybersecurity programs, including undergraduate and graduate certificates, a minor in assured and trusted digital microelectronics, a bachelor’s degree in information technology and cybersecurity and a master’s degree in cybersecurity.

Amsaad, who earned his Ph.D. in engineering, with an emphasis on computer science and engineering, from the University of Toledo, has a background in hardware security and trust.

His research interest in cybersecurity includes hardware security and trust, chip-level security and authentication, supply chain security and detection of hardware modification and trojans.

Amsaad established the Microelectronic Circuits and Hardware Inspection, Protection and Security (Micro-CHIPS) Cybersecurity Research Lab at Wright State. He is also the principal investigator of the university’s Assured Digital Microelectronics Education and Training Ecosystem grant, a $29.75 million Air Force contract designed to train students in the microchip and microelectronic fields.

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