Cybersecurity program earns NSA validation, will soon add second cyber threat range

With the launch of a new college focused on computing on the horizon, the growing cybersecurity program recently received national recognition and has expanded its outreach to area middle and high school students.

Andrew Kalafut, associate professor of computing, said the undergraduate program received National Security Agency validation, a step toward becoming a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education.

Kalafut said the validation process considers a program's curriculum, continuous improvement, continual activity for faculty and external opportunities for students.

student points to a laptop screen, another student looks on
At left, Ken Ntwiga points to a screen while Clayton Wenzel looks on during a virtual cybersecurity event February 10 in Mackinac Hall.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts

"It's more than checking off boxes," Kalafut said. "This is public-facing and validates our program of study. It shows our external audience that the NSA has reviewed this and we are in line to become a center of academic excellence."

More than 200 undergraduate and graduate students are cybersecurity majors. Soon, a cyber threat range will open on the Allendale Campus; a range opened on the Health Campus last year. The program hosted a cybersecurity "capture the flag" event in Mackinac Hall on February 10, when students competed virtually against the University of Louisville.

The new Mackinac Hall cyber threat range in is expected to be completed after spring break. It will be close to computing faculty offices and convenient for undergraduate students, Kalafut said.

student points to laptop with pencil
Joshua Wiles, in black shirt, looks at a screen during a 'capture the flag' cybersecurity event.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts
monitor screen says cyber threat range
A cyber threat range was established on the Health Campus last year. A second range will be established on the Allendale Campus and is expected to open after spring break.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts

Esther Muchai, who will earn a master's degree in cybersecurity in April, serves as a graduate assistant at the Health Campus cyber threat range. After earning a bachelor's degree in finance and accounting, Muchai said she became interested in cybersecurity after her father experienced a hospital lab mix-up with his bloodwork. 

"It became a security issue and I was really curious about how and why that happened," said Muchai, who works as an intern at Corewell Health's IT department. 

Samah Mansour, assistant professor and director of the cybersecurity master's degree program, said plans are in the works for the master's program to receive an NSA validation. Mansour established and is the faculty advisor for the student chapter of “WiCyS She Secures,” which is dedicated to supporting women in cybersecurity.

computer lab with lots of people seated at stations
The cyber threat range in Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences hosted an event for the community last year.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts

Audry Douglas, a junior, said that it's an exciting time for the program and the field. Douglas is the president of WiCyS She Secures. According to research/publishing firm Cybersecurity Ventures, women will represent 30 percent of the global cybersecurity workforce by 2025, increasing to 35 percent by 2031.

The student organization and increased outreach to area middle and high schools now fall under the new Institute for Cybersecurity Education and Research (ICER). Mansour said ICER also allows for easier collaborations with other campus departments.

"We go into area schools and are building a pipeline for students to come to Grand Valley and join the program," Mansour said. "Even if they don't choose Grand Valley, they are learning to be safe online."

The chapter will host about 50 area Girl Scouts in March on the Allendale Campus for a cybersecurity day. Douglas said she attended a similar event at Western Michigan University.

"It was so awesome to see all the excitement among the girls," Douglas said. "We talked about careers in cybersecurity, identity theft and had other sessions."


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