Alabama State U. announces $300K cybersecurity diversity grant

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Alabama State University on Friday announced a $300,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research designed to train more of its minority students in cybersecurity and improve the diversity of the field. 

The grant will be administered by three Alabama State faculty members to undergraduate students training to become military officers through the university’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program. One of the grant leaders, Rajendran Swamidurai, an associate professor of computer science, said in a university announcement that one of the funding’s main goals will be to extend cybersecurity education to groups underrepresented in that field.

While research from the International Information System Security Certification Consortium shows that minority representation within cybersecurity is slightly higher than it is in the overall workforce in the U.S., some minority groups are better represented than others. Only about 9% of cybersecurity professionals are Black, according to a 2018 survey by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium. Meanwhile, women of all races and ethnicities account for just 14% of the cybersecurity workforce, according to the International Consortium of Minority Cybersecurity Professionals.

“Our overall goal in this program is to encourage students to learn by discovery as opposed to passive listening. This will be accomplished by employing non-traditional forms of active learning such as cooperative learning, simulation-based research and experimentation,” Swamidurai said in the announcement

Half of the grant funding will go to “student support,” Swamidurai said, which he estimated will equate to 10 undergraduates and two graduate students starting cybersecurity research.

Swamidurai said students will engineer cybersecurity processes using “collaborative-adversarial pair” programming, an agile methodology that he developed, which applies “cutting-edge industry techniques at each point in the software lifecycle.”

In addition to the grant funding, Swamidurai said the university is working to develop a cybersecurity lab and research center larger than any other in the region. The plan is to build a facility with 80 computers and other equipment, he said, that could be used by students, faculty and “other stakeholders.”

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