TU awarded $2M NSA grant to boost cybersecurity education

By Cody Boteler on September 27, 2021

Over two years, TU faculty will catalogue, research cybersecurity curricula

The 7800 York Road building
TU was awarded a $2.2 million grant to improve cybersecurity curricula.

Cementing Towson University’s national leadership in cybersecurity education, the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity located within the National Security Agency (NSA) has awarded TU a $2.2 million, two-year grant (with an option to increase to $3.2 million) to lead a task force dedicated to cataloging and improving U.S. cybersecurity curricula.

"As an institution providing leadership for the public good, TU is a preeminent developer of tech-focused leaders," says President Kim Schatzel. "Our faculty's expertise and research in cybersecurity are recognized nationally, and this NSA grant will support their efforts in the critical area of cybersecurity curricula development, knowledge acquisition, and workforce development."

Towson University has a strong record of leadership in cybersecurity and cybersecurity education. The NSA has designated the university as a National Center of Academic Excellence (CAE) in Cyber Operations since 2013, and TU was redesignated in 2021 as a CAE in Cyber Defense as well. Late last year, TU was named to a regional leadership position in cyber education by the NCAE-C.

The task force, led by Towson University and Portland Community College, will partner with other NCAE-Cs, including the United States Naval Academy, Cedarville University, Coastline Community College, Metropolitan State University and University of West Florida, and will act as a national curriculum committee for the NCAE-C program.

This work comes at a time when the United States faces a large shortfall in the cybersecurity workforce . The task force will analyze available cyber curricula, perform a gap analysis to identify high-need areas to create a cyber-ready workforce and develop high-quality, relevant, free and publicly available cybersecurity curricula.

"This grant award is further recognition of the excellence of our faculty and our programs in cyber," says Melanie Perreault, provost and executive vice president for academic and student affairs. "TU is leading the way nationally in preparing graduates for careers in cyber, and this latest award will allow the university to continue this important work."

Sidd Kaza, chair of the Department of Computer & Information Sciences, and Blair Taylor, an associate professor in the same department, will be conducting the work of the task force for Towson University. The two have included graduate assistants and undergraduate students in the cohort.

“This work will define the direction curricula and research will go in the cyber field,” says Kaza.

Analyzing and improving cyber curricula is not a one-time project, says Taylor.

“One of the things we really hope to do is to make this a continuous model,” she says.

Kaza and Taylor have the experience necessary to play a prominent role in the NSA task force. The pair were instrumental in the development of CLARK, an online platform that provides hundreds of free learning modules in cybersecurity. CLARK is now part of SecurEd, a nonprofit run by Taylor and Kaza and based in the new StarTUp space in the Armory.

The database played an important role during the pandemic. Users from universities, community colleges, companies and K-12 schools across the country have downloaded thousands of modules since CLARK launched in 2017, and traffic spiked during the school shutdown in 2020.