Iowa State University nationally recognized for cybersecurity program

University recently designated as a National Center for Academic Excellence in Information Assurance/Cyber Defense Education by NSA, DHS


June 05--Iowa State University has once again earned national recognition in both education and research.

The university was recently designated as a National Center for Academic Excellence in Information Assurance/Cyber Defense Education by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.

The designation covers the years 2014 to 2021 based on the curriculum planned for students in Iowa State programs. ISU was one of the first seven universities to earn the education title in 1999 and has held it every year since. ISU is also the only school in the state to earn the designation.

Doug Jacobson, professor in electrical and computer engineering at ISU, said designated universities must meet some "more rigid" criteria to earn the title. Some areas of judging include the amount of faculty, project topics assigned throughout the year and the overall curriculum in the program.

"It's quite an accomplishment for faculty and staff here at Iowa State, to be recognized that way," Jacobson said. "It helps our students, because it helps them get jobs while people look for schools that have this designation."

Jacobson said the engineering department has been aware of the judging criteria for the last few years, and some courses have been adjusted to meet the criteria. Specifically, Jacobson said Iowa State has courses that focus on specific areas of expertise like network and computer security, as well as aspects of firewalls and issues on ethics.

"It's a very robust curriculum," he said. "You can't just have one course on security, you have to have a pretty robust curriculum."

While ISU is not the only university in the nation to earn this title, Jacobson said it does stand out among other schools for its hands-on approach to the program. Jacobson said the labs associated with courses and the many out-of-class learning opportunities give ISU an advantage. One extracurricular activity engineering students have is the Cyber Defense Competition, which Jacobson said is a much larger event than similar competitions at other universities.

Several CDC events are held at ISU throughout the school year, and the competitions allow students to practice building secure computer systems.

"Some other colleges have a varsity team, one team of their top students, that go compete in regional competition," Jacobson said. "We've got 150 students in a weekend. We really view our CDC as a learning experience."

While the chance for the next designation is several years down the road, Jacobson said Iowa State's department is already looking for ways to improve their curriculum and continue earning the national title. One major change would be pushing more of the curriculum into the undergraduate program, and even offering the equivalent of a minor in computer security.

Jacobson added that Iowa State students can now get credit for competing in the CDC if they are willing to write a report about the competition. While the credit would not officially go towards graduation, Jacobson said the students would have that mark on their transcript, which potential employers can see.

"We're seeing a demand from both our students and companies to produce. Not every student has time to complete six years of school," Jacobson said. "So this really shows the commitment the faculty and Iowa State have in supporting our activities. This is an important field for Iowa State."

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