CMU receives $5.6 million NSF grant

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced recently that it is giving Carnegie Mellon $5.6 million in grant money through the CyberCorps Scholarship for Service (SFS). The SFS is a federal program that provides full-tuition scholarships for students who show promise in careers strengthening the nation’s cybersecurity infrastructure.

This is not the first time that the NSF has given money to Carnegie Mellon to fund cybersecurity education — the SFS program has been active at the university for over 10 years, handing out a total of over $21.6 million in awards and scholarships. This year’s grant, however, is the largest award to date, according to Dena Haritos Tsamitis, director of the College of Engineering’s Information Networking Institute (INI), in a university news release.

Students who are eligible for the SFS program are U.S. citizens who have been accepted into Carnegie Mellon’s graduate programs in information security or information security policy at the Heinz College or College of Engineering. The SFS program awards students full-tuition scholarships and sometimes stipends; students who receive scholarships through the program commit to a summer internship with a participating federal agency and one year of federal employment for every year they spend earning their degree.

Over the course of the program’s history at Carnegie Mellon, over 157 graduates have gone on to work for the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, and other federal departments.

Allison Boos, a 2014 graduate of the program, is working as an IT specialist in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice. Boos studied information security at the INI through the SFS program and spent a summer interning at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco as part of the National Incident Response Team.

“The experience of being an SFS student not only provided me with the education and skills inherent in a Carnegie Mellon education but also surrounded me with others with similar interests and goals, establishing a network that is both personally and professionally beneficial,” Boos said in a university news release.

The INI is a graduate school with degree programs in information networking; information security; and information technology mobility, information security, and software management. Since Tsamitis began directing the INI in 2004, it has earned the Center of Academic Excellence (CAE) in information assurance/cyber defense education, information assurance/cyber defense research, and cyber operations. The CAE is a federal recognition established in the wake of President Obama’s National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) and overseen by the National Security Agency.

“Our graduates in information security are sought after by employers and our research activities at CyLab are discussed by leaders and innovators in the areas of threat analysis, software security, cryptography, privacy, risk management and other areas,” said James H. Garrett Jr., dean of the College of Engineering and the Thomas Lord Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, in a university news release. “The SFS scholarship funds and new collaborative research opportunities are much appreciated by and a great fit for our faculty and students.”

The university is a well-known leader in cybersecurity research. In 2000, then-computer science graduate student Luis von Ahn worked with his adviser, Manuel Blum, to create CAPTCHA, an acronym for Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart. CAPTCHA is used by hundreds of websites to tell the difference between a robot and a human in front of a computer.