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Friday, February 21

Brookdale Newsroom

College Awarded $300,000 NSF Grant for Cybersecurity

The two-year project, Building a Pipeline of Cyber Warriors Through Education and Competition Offered Through Community Colleges, is a public-private partnership that includes Brookdale Community College, the SANS Institute, the Cyber Aces Foundation, and Counter Hack Challenges. Pictured at the NJ Governor’s Cyber Challenge at Brookdale on Saturday, March 23 are from left: Brookdale Engineering and Technology Department Chair, Professor Mike Qaissaunee, co-developer of the Brookdale four-phase cyber security model; Ed Skoudis, Counter Hack founder, SANS Institute Faculty Fellow, and co-developer of the Brookdale four-phase cyber security model; Patricia Gallo, Academic Division Dean, Business & Technology, Brookdale; Sonny Sandelius, Cyber Aces Foundation; Kelly Par, Project Administrator E-MATE, E-books and Mobile Apps for Technician Education, Brookdale; and Alan Paller, SANS Institute Director of Research.

Brookdale Answers Call to Address Country’s Cyber Defense

Brookdale has been awarded a $300,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to develop a pipeline of highly-skilled cybersecurity workers through the creation of the New Jersey CyberCenter™ at Brookdale, the country’s first such center in a planned National Cyber Centers Network.

“Brookdale deserves credit for positioning New Jersey to lead the nation in finding the best talent available to serve as cyber warriors, defending our computer systems from attack,” said New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks. “This program is the perfect example of the sort of industry-academic partnerships we are emphasizing in our state.”

Brookdale Engineering and Technology Department Chair, Professor Mike Qaissaunee developed the model for this initiative with Ed Skoudis, a SANS Institute faculty fellow and founder of Wall, NJ-based security firm Counter Hack Challenges. Last summer, Alan Paller, Director of Research at the SANS Institute, sent an unsolicited email to Brookdale President Maureen Murphy seeking to team with Brookdale to prepare a joint proposal to establish a community college educational program to develop a career pathway for skilled cybersecurity professionals.

“Community colleges are optimally equipped to provide skills training in short timeframes, and Brookdale is serendipitously located near Ed Skoudis, one of the top cybersecurity practitioners and teachers in the country,” Paller said. “Skoudis is the author of two of the most respected books in the field and is the go-to person for the White House and other sensitive agencies when they need to know where cybersecurity vulnerabilities are and how to fix them.” In Qaissaunee, Paller said, Brookdale also had a two-time educator of the year and a community college faculty member with a wealth of experience in NSF grant proposal writing and management.

The project that resulted from this collaboration addresses both the increasing frequency and intensity of cyber attacks and the associated demand for highly skilled cybersecurity professionals to prevent and defend against them.

“There aren’t enough students in the cybersecurity training pipeline to meet the growing demand for professionals with hands-on skills and experience,” said Qaissaunee. “The four-phase Brookdale-SANS model is designed to broaden the number of students entering the cybersecurity training pipeline and adopts a competition-driven mechanism to narrow this pool to those with a demonstrated ability to succeed in this line of work. Ultimately, we want to identify the best-of-the-best.” The model, which is aligned with and supports recent recommendations made by the national Department of Homeland Security Taskforce on CyberSkills, also aims to get these skilled professionals into the workforce faster than existing approaches.

In Phase 1, New Jersey high school juniors and seniors, college students (two-year, four-year, and graduate), active duty and veteran armed services members, and job seekers will be invited to participate in a free, Cyber Aces Foundation online competition consisting of three modules and associated quizzes.

In Phase 2, which will take place at Brookdale each spring, the top 15 percent of Phase 1 participants will be invited to compete in an all-day New Jersey Governor’s Cyber Challenge. The top 10 Phase 2 competitors will earn the opportunity to apply and interview to enroll in the New Jersey CyberCenter™ at Brookdale, Phase 3. The first iteration of Phase 1 was completed February 15 and the inaugural New Jersey Governor’s Cyber Challenge was held on March 23. The winner of this year’s challenge was Ryan McVeety, a student at Red Bank Regional High School. Two Brookdale students placed in the top 20 – Colin Mahns finished in 11th place, and Christian Nicholson finished in 19th place.

Following the application and interview processes, Phase 3 students selected to enroll in the New Jersey CyberCenter™ at Brookdale will be immersed in rigorous, intensive cybersecurity curriculum, comprised of a blend of Brookdale courses and established SANS Institute training. Brookdale, local SANS faculty, and industry experts will supervise the training, provide support to the students, and monitor their progress.

Each year, the project culminates with Phase 4, New Jersey CyberCenter™ at Brookdale Residencies. Here, highly-qualified, high performing students who have completed Phase 3 will have the opportunity to interview for placement into real-world, hands-on learning environments or paid internships modeled after medical student residencies. “Scenario-based training—like that used for pilots and doctors—works,” Paller said.

This is the second NSF grant awarded to Brookdale in the past five months and third in the institution’s history. In October 2012, Brookdale received funding for a proposal submitted by Qaissaunee for the E-MATE project to design a reusable framework to develop e-books and mobile apps for technician education. In 2003, Brookdale was awarded $604,848 for Qaissaunee to found the Mid-Atlantic Institute for Telecommunications Technologies (MAITT), which developed and implemented several new courses related to wireless communications.

“What makes this cybersecurity grant particularly rewarding is that it resulted from an unsolicited proposal,” Brookdale President Maureen Murphy said. “NSF saw compelling potential in the scalable cybersecurity training model developed by Professor Mike Qaissaunee and Ed Skoudis, such that the project was funded outside of the typical NSF proposal cycle. Brookdale is poised to be a leader in this important effort in New Jersey and nationally, and this is an unparalleled synergistic opportunity for our faculty, staff, and students to work with the country’s top cybersecurity professionals.”

“There are only a handful of people in the country with Ed Skoudis’ level of cybersecurity expertise,” Paller said. “He has trained more than 3,000 of the top cyber practitioners at the NSA, the military, big banks, other government institutions, and major corporations. This grant and the collaboration with Brookdale will channel Ed’s talents on the task of filling the nation’s critical cyber manpower shortage.”

Building a Pipeline of Cyber Warriors Through Education and Competition Offered Through Community Colleges, is a two-year project supported by the National Science Foundation Federal CyberCorps®: Scholarship for Service (SFS) program under Grant No. DUE 1331170.