Initial Funding Is $4.98 Million; Total of $11 Million Anticipated

Indiana University of Pennsylvania has received $4.98 million from the Department of Defense for the first three years of a novel project to enhance Cybersecurity and STEM education in Pennsylvania (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

The project period of performance is expected to be six years with total funding of about $11 million.

This grant is the largest single grant that has ever been awarded to IUP. 

Waleed Farag, professor of computer science and director of IUP’s Institute for Cyber Security, authored the grant application and will lead the team working on the project; team members will include IUP faculty and graduate students as well as faculty and administrators from six Pennsylvania community college partners.

The project, “A Collaborative Pennsylvania-wide Community College Consortium for Enhancing STEM and Cybersecurity Education,” will establish a dynamic, collaborative consortium of community colleges, with IUP as the lead organization. The goal of the project is to increase completion rates of certificate programs that strengthen the STEM and cybersecurity workforce and increase the rates of students transitioning from community colleges to STEM degrees at four-year institutions.

“Dr. Farag has a well-deserved reputation as a leader in cybersecurity education, and he has worked tirelessly to build an extraordinary program at IUP, focusing on student success and academic excellence in all that he does,” IUP President Michael Driscoll said. “This innovative initiative can also help to address the critical need for more cybersecurity experts in the workforce in Pennsylvania and throughout the country.”

“IUP’s expertise in cybersecurity and STEM education, commitment to research, and our already established relationships with community colleges throughout the state, positions IUP perfectly to lead this important initiative,” Driscoll said. “This project truly complements IUP’s ongoing work of eliminating barriers for students who want to transition to IUP from community colleges,” he said.

A particular focus of the program is supporting student-veterans and students from underserved and underrepresented groups in the STEM and cybersecurity fields to complete educational programs at both the community college and baccalaureate degree levels.

“This initiative and its goals are well aligned with the goals of IUP’s Strategic Plan, which includes a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and to providing the resources and services that our students need and deserve to achieve their educational goals,” Driscoll said.

The Collaborative grant funding will be used to develop a set of innovative initiatives and activities focusing on student recruitment, retention, and completion of STEM and cybersecurity programs. The project also includes engaging with the local secondary schools and industries related to cyber defense and cybersecurity.

Community colleges that are partner organizations in the project are Bucks County Community College, Butler County Community College, Montgomery County Community College, Northampton Community College, Pennsylvania Highlands Community College, and Westmoreland County Community College. IUP has partnership agreements with all of these colleges and has dual admission agreements with Penn Highlands and with Westmoreland.

“We strongly believe that improving cybersecurity and STEM programs at the community college level will positively contribute to the alleviation of the national talent gap in this important field,” Farag said.

This project has three major objectives: increase certificate completion rates; increase transfer rates to four-year institutions; and increase student interest in employment in the science, technology, and manufacturing workforce, including Department of Defense and related companies.

As part of the research in preparation for requesting grant funds, Farag and his team identified multiple challenges community colleges face in meeting the goals of the project, which include effective marketing and recruitment, retention, cost of obtaining certifications, and community awareness of existing opportunities and career paths.

“Some of the initiatives to overcome identified challenges will be managed centrally at IUP to maximize efficiency, minimize needed resources, and promote collaboration, while the others will be implemented locally at each of the participating community colleges to address local challenges and target a specific audience at each institution,” Farag said.

Services anticipated to be managed by IUP include soft-skill tutoring, assessment, and faculty professional development services; programs to be managed by the community colleges include mentorship, certificate training, K-12 outreach, summer activities, and course alignments to support a seamless transition to the four-year institution.

In addition to developing programs and projects, the IUP team will be active in the implementation of these new initiatives; planning and development will commence this year; implementation will begin in the 2023-24 academic year. A comprehensive assessment strategy will be used throughout the project to measure its effectiveness.

For the past 20 years, IUP has been recognized as a Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense from the National Security Agency, one of only 16 universities in Pennsylvania to hold this designation. IUP is one of the first universities in the nation to integrate the disciplines of criminology and computer science to support an academic program in cybersecurity.

In the last six years, IUP’s Institute for Cyber Security has secured more than $15 million in federal funding for IUP sponsored initiatives and programs, including more than $1 million in federal funding for IUP to enhance cybersecurity training for middle school students and teachers through the GenCyber program. More than 450 middle school students and teachers have completed GenCyber camps since 2016.

Over the last five years, Farag has secured more than $2 million through a Department of Defense program that has provided 37 full scholarships to students in IUP’s cybersecurity major. Part of the scholarship opportunity is a guaranteed position with the Department of Defense after graduation.

“I am glad of the trust and confidence that major federal agencies, including the National Security Agency and the Department of Defense, have in IUP,” Farag said. “I also want to thank President Driscoll, Dean Hovan, the School of Graduate Studies and Research, and the Research Institute, for providing the resources and support needed to secure these competitive grant-funded projects,” he said.

IUP’s Research Institute, a separate, private, nonprofit corporation affiliated with IUP, provides research administrative assistance at all stages of externally funded projects. It is the official recipient of the grant funds.

“Although the focus of the consortium work and initiatives will be on cybersecurity education, our implemented services will help STEM education in general, as well as address some other Department of Defense priority areas such as robotics,” Farag said.

In 2017, a team of faculty at IUP led by Farag received a grant of $212,000 from the National Security Agency to enhance cybersecurity education in western Pennsylvania. The team included faculty from English, Professional Studies in Education, and Political Science and students at IUP.

The project, completed in 2018, resulted in the development of a cohesive set of services to innovatively address known challenges facing cybersecurity education, incorporating an interdisciplinary approach in designing and implementing these services that will appeal to diverse cyber talent—including women and minorities—and serve a geographical area that is predominantly rural. This project was part of the Cybersecurity National Action Plan: Investment in Expansion of CAE-C (Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity) Education Program.

The IUP Institute for Cyber Security also continues to organize and present an annual Cybersecurity Day and conducted a research study during 2020-22 on improving IoT (Internet of Things) systems security, funded through a $250,000 grant from the NCAE-C Cyber Curriculum and Research 2020 Program.

IUP began offering its bachelor of science in computer science/cyber security track (originally information assurance) and a minor in cybersecurity in 2002. This program combined core computer science and cybersecurity classes with a minor in criminology, creating a novel curriculum that helped students gain a broad understanding of the field and be work-ready.

IUP’s Institute for Cyber Security at IUP was founded in 2005 to further encourage and promote cybersecurity at IUP and the surrounding community.

The IUP Cyber Security program has about 120 students enrolled, and about 20 students annually complete the program and receive their bachelor’s degree in the computer science/cyber security track. IUP’s program also focuses on cybercrime detection, loss prevention, and how to collect the evidence to prosecute cybersecurity offenders.

IUP has a longstanding commitment to research on all levels and in all disciplines. In 2021, IUP was one of only two public universities in Pennsylvania and one of only 93 public universities in the United States selected for the “High Research Activity” designation by the Carnegie Classification of Higher Institutions of Higher Education.

This project is supported by the National Defense Education Program for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education, Outreach, and Workforce Initiative Programs under Cooperative Agreement No. HQ00342220009.