Thursday, February 27

Brookdale Newsroom

Brookdale Student Awarded First Ever Cybersecurity Scholarship

Second-year computer science major Michael Giacona has joined an elite group of community college students from across the country this year as a new member of the National Science Foundation‘s (NSF) Scholarships for Service (SFS) program. Giacona, 19, will receive a full-ride scholarship for his final year at Brookdale, along with a $22,500 stipend and an allowance of up to $9,000 for books, health care expenses and professional development services.

If he successfully completes the program, Giacona will be eligible to receive a full-ride scholarship at one of the region’s top technological universities, along with an additional stipend of $22,500 and a high-level internship as he works to complete his bachelor’s degree. After graduation, he will be able to begin his career as a cybersecurity professional with the federal government.

The SFS program, hosted in New Jersey by the Stevens Institute of Technology, is designed to encourage students to pursue careers in cybersecurity and help recruit the nation’s best and brightest computer science graduates to work as cybersecurity professionals for federal agencies.

“These agencies project that they will need to fill roughly 30,000 positions in that sector, and there simply aren’t enough qualified people,” said Brookdale engineering and technology professor Michael Qaissaunee, who is a serving as a campus mentor to Giacona. “That’s why Congress and the NSF are putting so much into this program.”

Giacona, of Manalapan, was selected from among dozens of applicants at Brookdale, each of whom had a 3.5 GPA and were beginning their second year at the college. A volunteer firefighter and a lieutenant with the Manalapan Township Police Explorers, Giacona said he applied for the program in hopes that he could combine his passions for public service with his long-standing interest in computer science.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity, both financially and professionally,” he said. “Obviously the scholarship and the stipend are huge – they will allow me to concentrate on my education and do the best I can while in school. But the work after school is really going to be interesting. To get a career in that field, especially in cybersecurity, would be very exciting for me.”

After submitting an extensive application – including two letters of recommendation – Giacona was invited to meet with Stevens’ SFS principal investigator Susanne Wetzel this fall, along with a dedicated university mentor and representatives from Stevens’ Transfer Student Association. Throughout this year, Giacona will complete 34 degree credits at Brookdale while working with Qaissaunee on an independent study course in cybersecurity fundamentals.

The two also plan to attend a cybersecurity job fair in Washington D.C. this winter. By graduation, Giacona hopes to build a college transcript that will allow him to transfer to Stevens, one of the most highly regarded technological institutions in the region. If accepted, he will receive free tuition, a stipend and an annual allowance at Stevens, along with dedicated academic support and assistance in landing a prestigious internship prior to his senior year.

After graduation, Giacona will go to work as a cybersecurity professional for the federal government, spending at least three years defending the nation from hackers, identity thieves and other digital threats.

“It’s a big commitment, but that doesn’t bother me at all,” said Giacona. “I really enjoy coming to school and learning about computers. The prospect of graduating debt-free with the experience I need to start a rewarding career, that’s huge.”

Qaissaunee said the SFS program will continue in the 2017-18 school year, with at least one Brookdale student being selected to follow in Giacona’s footsteps.

“It’s a very rigorous program, but the Stevens name carries a lot of weight in terms of employment,” he said. “The NSF wants 100 percent job placement out of this program…. It’s a very rare opportunity, because there are not a lot of schools in the country that have these kind of grants. There really is no downside.”

Click here to learn more about the Brookdale/Stevens Scholarships for Service program.

Learn more about Brookdale’s computer science program here

[Pictured: Michael Qaissaunee (left), Michael Giacona]