Enlisting cyberdefenders

Do you want to pursue a career in information security? Now's your chance to get a degree for free, in exchange for some government service. The National Science Foundation announced May 22 that it has awarded $8.6 million in scholarship money to six schools in the first round of its Scholarship for Service program, which the NSF manages.

The SFS program provides scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students who agree to study information security and information assurance in exchange for two years of related government service when they graduate. The students will also receive a stipend and a paid summer internship with a federal agency.

The Office of Personnel Management will manage the placement of interns and graduates.

Rita Colwell, NSF director, said there is a growing need for information security professionals in today's Information Age particularly because "the pace of change is unlikely" to slow down. Colwell was speaking at the Fifth Annual National Colloquium for Information Systems Security Education held at George Mason University.

The scholarships will encourage young people to enter the information assurance and information security field "and give them the opportunity to put their talents to work at the front lines of government cybersecurity efforts," Colwell said. "We need more of our nation's most promising minds focused on the growing cyberthreat to national security."

The six schools that received the money will award the scholarships to students beginning in the fall semester. Individual scholarships differ in their amounts, but tuition, room and board are covered. The institutions are among 23 so-called centers of excellence, a designation bestowed by the National Security Agency (see box).

NSF plans to announce an additional $1.6 million in awards that will go toward developing faculty instructional capabilities in information assurance and security. Some of that money will also go toward helping schools that are not certified as centers of excellence but want to develop their own information security programs.

The Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office is working with the NSF and other stakeholders on the SFS program because training and education are essential to protecting the national critical infrastructure, said Shirley Malia, Federal Cyber Services program director at the CIAO. "We're looking at how to ensure the awareness of personal responsibility," she said. "All persons are potentially the weakest link."

Schools are excited about the scholarship program. For Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, the program improves its relationship with federal agencies and supports the school's mission as an educator, said Donald McGillen, executive director of the Chief Information Officer Institute at the university. "This is the right thing for the university to be doing," he said.

Students participating in Carnegie Mellon's four master's programs dedicated to information security management, information technology, public policy and management, and information networking are eligible for the scholarships.

The Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., hopes the scholarships will encourage an "infusion of civilian students" to its program, said Paul Clark, a co-principal investigator for the SFS program at the school, which has had an information assurance program in place since 1991. Most students at the school are from the Defense Department, he said.

Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, also expects to attract more graduate students interested in information assurance as a result of the program, said James Davis, associate professor at the school's Information Systems Security Lab, Electrical and Computer Engineering. "It will allow us to reach a critical mass and help us build our program," he said.

MORE INFO

Scholarship for Service awards

* Carnegie Mellon University

Scholarships to 32 master's students. Four-year total amount: $2.4 million.

* Iowa State University

Fellowships to 30 graduates and undergraduates. Four-year total amount: $2.6 million.

* Naval Postgraduate School

Scholarships for 30 master's students. Four-year total amount: $2.2 million.

* Purdue University

Scholarships for 30 graduate students. Four-year total amount: $2.3 million.

* University of Idaho

Scholarships to 30 graduate/undergraduate students. Four-year total amount: $1.4 million.

* University of Tulsa

Scholarships for 36 students participating in two-year programs. Four-year total amount: $2.7 million.

Source: National Science Foundation

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