UNLV is fortifying its status as a top tier provider of cybersecurity education, kicking off 2024 with a $3.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to train the next generation of cyber defense professionals.
Over the next five years, UNLV will establish a CyberCorps Scholarship for Service (SFS) program, housed in the UNLV College of Engineering, to cultivate cybersecurity experts skilled in artificial intelligence and machine learning for service in federal and local government.
“Incorporating AI and machine learning into cybersecurity is vital as it allows us to proactively identify and combat complex cyber threats, thereby strengthening the protection of our nation's critical digital infrastructure,” said Juyeon Jo, a project lead and computer science professor at UNLV. “This grant will empower us to educate students in these sophisticated fields, equipping them to bolster government sectors with cutting-edge cybersecurity defenses.”
The award is the latest in a series of recent successes for UNLV’s flourishing cybersecurity program. In late 2023, the university garnered three awards from the Small Business Administration, the National Security Agency, and Google — also totaling over $3 million — to support cybersecurity education and community programming. Those grants are tailored to expand the efforts of UNLV’s Free Cyber Clinic, an organization founded in 2021 and co-led by Jo and computer science professor Yoohwan Kim, to assist southern Nevada small businesses in securing their cyber infrastructure.
Combined with the latest investment from the NSF, UNLV has received, in a span of just six months, more than $6 million to bolster its cybersecurity program, one of the fastest growing programs on campus.
“The NSF grant will significantly enhance our cybersecurity program, creating synergies with our existing initiatives, including the NSA's GenCyber high school cybersecurity summer camp, the Department of Energy's critical infrastructure cybersecurity using AI, and the Cyber Clinic for Small Businesses supported by the NSA, SBA, and Google.org,” said Jo. “This funding serves as a catalyst for comprehensive cybersecurity workforce development, bridging programs from high school to graduate training, and providing vital services like our cyber clinic for small businesses.”
The CyberCorps SFS program at UNLV — one of just six awarded nationwide in the latest cycle — will attract and mentor high-caliber students from both undergraduate and graduate levels. It also will proactively engage with local high schools and community colleges to shore up the talent pipeline, placing special emphasis on increasing the participation of underrepresented and female students in the cybersecurity domain.
"It is critical that we unleash the enormous talent embedded in our communities and bring new, diverse perspectives into the nation's cybersecurity workforce," NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said in a statement. "NSF recognizes the persistent shortage of cybersecurity talent in the United States and strives to bridge this gap by providing diverse student populations with innovative and high-quality educational experiences. This investment reaffirms NSF's commitment to developing a solid workforce of cybersecurity graduates with integrated AI skills, ready to tackle future cyber threats."
The project will leverage UNLV's existing resources and expertise to equip graduates for an immediate impact in cybersecurity roles within federal or local government. Recruited students will receive full scholarships and stipends, and throughout their time at UNLV, they’ll engage in extensive cybersecurity and AI/ML training through a combination of academic coursework, online modules, and industry-recognized certifications, all designed to enable them to detect, thwart, and prevent cyber-attacks using AI/ML techniques.
“AI and machine learning are getting more powerful and useful everyday,” said Kim. “By using them properly, we can develop better cybersecurity systems and protect our country more effectively from cyber attacks.”
The direct mentorship with dedicated research supervisors will enable independent research into pressing cybersecurity challenges, and students will refine their practical abilities by participating in cyber competitions, attending conferences, completing summer internships, and obtaining real-world experience through the Free Cyber Clinic, where they will work with local clients to reduce the risk of hacking, ransomware, phishing attacks, and other cybercrimes.
“It's a pivotal boost for UNLV's cybersecurity program, enabling us to innovate and maintain our momentum in this rapidly evolving field,” said Jo.