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Department of Defense funds $1.475 million for cyber institute

UNG has received about $1.475 million in Department of Defense funding to establish a cybersecurity institute.

The University of North Georgia (UNG) and the nation's other five senior military colleges have received approximately $1.475 million each of federal money to establish cybersecurity institutes as pilot programs on their campuses in fall 2020.

Included in the 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act, the funds are part of a $10 million Department of Defense (DOD) appropriation to the National Security Agency (NSA) for these institutes.

"We are excited to be able to expand what we already are doing in developing a pipeline of professionals who can serve in military or civilian jobs to tackle cyber issues that touch virtually every aspect of society," said Dr. Mary Gowan, dean of UNG's Mike Cottrell College of Business.

Dr. Sharon Hamilton, associate vice president of strategic partnerships at Norwich University and principal investigator for the grant, said the DOD allocated the money due to a critical shortage of qualified cyber professionals, both military and civilian, to join its ranks. More than 500,000 cyber jobs are open nationally, with more than 17,000 of those openings in Georgia, according to Cyber Seek.

UNG is already designated by the NSA and Department of Homeland Security as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education, and "senior military college students have a propensity to serve," Hamilton said.

UNG's students have also shown an ability to excel in cyber, as evidenced by their decisive win in the NSA Codebreaker Challenge that wrapped up in January 2020 and their lead in the current challenge set to finish in January 2021. Dr. Bryson Payne, professor of computer science and director of the Center for Cyber Operations Education at UNG, said the DOD appropriation will open the door for scholarships that allow women, minorities, first-generation college students, those from rural communities, and other promising students to get their start in cyber and related careers.

The Center for Cyber Operations Education will now fall under the institute, and Payne is interim executive director of the institute until a full-time director is hired.

"This grant and the scholarships it provides will give more students a chance to pursue their degree in cybersecurity without having to worry about working more or taking out loans to pay for tuition," Payne said. "NSA Director Gen. Paul Nakasone has said, 'The threat is diverse; our response must also be diverse.' We know we need more diversity in the cyber workforce. This program gives these students a chance to show they have what it takes in cyber and join the fight."

Payne said the cyber institute on UNG's Dahlonega Campus will feature additional faculty, administrative and information technology support, and greater interaction with DOD personnel to help students understand what is expected in DOD cyber careers.

"We are very pleased to have a program of such excellence and capacity in response to this critical need. This funding is much-needed support," said Dr. Ash Mady, head of UNG's Department of Computer Science and Information Systems. "It reflects partnership. Our community and companies communicate needs and provide support, and we educate and respond to that need."

Hamilton said the goal for all six senior military colleges is to receive cyber institute funding for a second year so they can show their value and become a funded "program of record" with the DOD. Her vision also extends beyond the six SMCs.

"The SMCs will prove that we can be a talent pipeline," Hamilton said. "And then we can reach out to other universities and help them become DOD cyber institutes."

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