Offering an Academic Hand to Minority Schools

CMU Workshop Extends New Opportunities to Information Assurance Educators Gail Finley is Associate Professor, Dept. of Computer Science and Information Technology, at University of District of Columbia - a minority-serving school located in the nation's capital.

She is also one of six participants who recently attended Carnegie Mellon University's Information Assurance Capacity Building Program (IACBP), a federally-funded program through which the school's information assurance faculty, researchers and staff advise and teach faculty from minority-serving institutions in developing new curricula through discussions on current theory and best practices in information assurance to implement at their home institutions.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) funded IACBP program is focused on helping minority-serving institutions " ...develop effective information security curricula including security specific course specialization and quality information assurance education with academic enrichment from both Carnegie Mellon CyLab and INI", says Dena Haritos Tsamitis, INI Director and director of education, training and outreach for Carnegie Mellon CyLab.

From Finley's perspective, the program is fun and enriching experience - an opportunity to get first-hand knowledge and exposure in current areas of information assurance research, as well as expert guidance and mentoring in teaching methodologies, techniques and tools involved in this discipline.

"We now know what the best school offers and what we need to do to be one," Finley says.

How the Program Works

As a two-year workshop, the program provides a two-week session during the first year that presents IA theory and practice, and then gives a three-day follow-up session during the second year, when participants present their initial outcomes and results to their peers. "This particular approach is designed to integrate three main components, including technical knowledge, pedagogical support and an individual development plan," says Tsamitis. A stipend of $2,500 is provided to participants in the program. The focus of this year's IACBP program was on Cyber Forensics Science.

Each participant is selected in the program based on background, experience and program undertaking in information assurance, as well as on the Institutional support of their department chair and dean. Among the questions Finley and other participants addressed in the selection process:

  • What is your commitment to teaching information assurance issues?
  • What have you accomplished so far with regards to IA teaching and course development?
  • What objectives do you plan to achieve in the short-term (one year) or soon after completing this workshop?
  • What are your future objectives in developing projects and courses in information assurance?

Over seven years, the IACBP program has so far involved the participation of 36 faculties from 11 minority-serving institutes. The program's successful offering has culminated in the creation of 11 new courses, seven new degree options and 14 new certificate programs, workshops and symposia. One participating institution, California State Polytechnic University at Pomona, was designated as a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance by the National Security Agency.

"Programs such as the IACBP are designed to strengthen information assurance education at campuses across the country," adds Tsamitis "As the cybersecurity field expands, CyLab and the INI will continue to take leadership to align information assurance education programs to the nation's needs."

Key Takeaways

The program also more than meets the expectations of participants, Finley says. "We attend the program from the perspective of getting our initial goals accomplished and usually find the workshop exceeding our expectations," she says. As a minority institute, Finley's school is interested in developing a course in computer forensics to be offered initially in the bachelor's level and enhancing a virtual laboratory environment for our students. "This program has taught us how and what we can bring to our students," Finley says.

The real value of this workshop, Finley says, is access to hands-on knowledge on:

  • How to develop a course?
  • What should be a good and ideal lab environment for the students taking a course?
  • How should we set up a lab environment based on best practices?
  • How should we re-structure our current program to accommodate new courses?
  • What best practices should we adopt in our teaching methodologies?
  • What kind of research and emerging trends can we best expose our students to?
  • What kind of internship and project initiatives should we include in our curriculum?

Finley recently incorporated a network security course in her school's bachelor's level program and now is looking forward to introducing the forensics course this coming spring.

"This face-to-face experience with experts at Carnegie Mellon, who are extremely generous with their time, is an invaluable learning experience," Finley says. "[It] helps transform our goals into real projects."

About the Author

Upasana Gupta

Upasana Gupta

Contributing Editor, CareersInfoSecurity

Upasana Gupta oversees CareersInfoSecurity and shepherds career and leadership coverage for all Information Security Media Group's media properties. She regularly writes on career topics and speaks to senior executives on a wide-range of subjects, including security leadership, privacy, risk management, application security and fraud. She also helps produce podcasts and is instrumental in the global expansion of ISMG websites by recruiting international information security and risk experts to contribute content, including blogs. Upasana previously served as a resource manager focusing on hiring, recruiting and human resources at Icons Inc., an IT security advisory firm affiliated with ISMG. She holds an MBA in human resources from Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield, Iowa.

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