Scholars to Help Fortify Nation's Cyberdefenses

NSF Funds Next Generation of Experts to Protect U.S. Information Infrastructure

Sep. 29, 2010

A new scholarship program at UT Dallas supports graduate students who could ultimately play a key role in helping protect the U.S. government’s critical information infrastructure.

The $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will fund the Computer Security and Information Assurance Scholarship for Service Program, which will award scholarships to up to 22 students, providing them with a stipend and fully funding their tuition and living expenses for up to two years.

Students will also be provided with active mentoring and support to help place them in federal positions once they’ve graduated. In exchange for their scholarships, students are expected to serve within the federal government for a period equivalent to the length of the scholarship.

“Information assurance includes not only computer security but related technologies such as forensics and cyber-defense,” said Dr. Kamil Sarac, an associate professor of computer science and the program’s principal investigator. “Students realize that working for the government in the information assurance area will give them a unique opportunity to fulfill their interests as well as sharpen their skills. Since government computers are primary targets for attacks from around the world, these students will be working at the cutting edge of the field.” 

One such student is Donald Talkington, who is pursuing an MS degree in the computer science department’s information assurance track. He graduated from UT Dallas in May with a BS in computer science.

“In addition to the financial benefits, this scholarship program provides me with a lot of opportunities in terms of networking, extracurricular activities, internships and supplemental coursework,” he said. “All these things combined with the education I’m receiving are going to prepare me to enter my future career ahead of the curve.”

Once Talkington fulfills his service obligation, he should be able to have his pick of jobs, according to Sarac, who said current demand is five to 10 times greater than the number of trained information assurance professionals.

That’s one reason Sarac and his colleagues in the University’s Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science have been developing the school’s information assurance research and educational program for the past several years.

“UT Dallas is becoming an important player in the information assurance research area,” Sarac said.  “We want to be known as one of the main hubs – especially in the region, but also nationwide – that produces well-equipped, well-educated students in the field.”

The project furthers the department’s goal of building a comprehensive program for both research and education in cybersecurity, said co-investigator Bhavani Thuraisingham, the Louis Beecherl Jr. Distinguished Professor in Computer Science and director of the University’s Cyber Security Research Center. 

“This grant helps position UT Dallas as the go-to place for cybersecurity,” she said. 

In addition to Sarac and Thuraisingham, the program’s other co-investigators are Dr. Edwin Sha, Dr. Murat Kantarcioglu and Dr. Kevin Hamlen.


Media Contact: Jimmie Markham, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2198, jrm014010@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu
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 Information Assurance Group

Computer science graduate students already participating in the new information assurance scholarship program include (left to right) Donald Talkington, Kevin Hulin, Jonathan Evans and Camron Quitugua.

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