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$3 million NSF grant renews support for cybersecurity training

Behnam Arad, associate dean for Student Affairs in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, has led Sac State's CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program since it began in 2010. The program has received a new $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation that will allow it to continue for another five years. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

By Daniel Wilson: July 31, 2023

A well-established College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) cybersecurity workforce development program will continue for another five years with renewed funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The CyberCorps Scholarship for Service (SFS) program provides tuition and other financial support for students who commit to work for the government in the field of cybersecurity upon graduation.

Sixty Sac State students have graduated from the program since it began in 2010, landing jobs with the FBI, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, national cybersecurity research labs and other local, state, tribal, and federal government agencies. The new grant award of just over $3 million, funded by the NSF and co-sponsored by Homeland Security, will support an additional 26 students through 2028.

Behnam Arad, associate dean for Student Affairs in ECS, has overseen the program at Sac State since it began. He said the new funding stipulates that at least 80% of the program’s future students work at the federal level.

“In the past, it was like more a desire, but right now, it's a requirement that if we don't meet that, then the chance of getting renewal in the future could be negatively impacted,” Arad said.

Scholarships are usually awarded to juniors, seniors or graduate students and cover full tuition for fall and spring as well as some funding for summer courses over two to three academic years. Tuition stipends amount to $25,000 per academic year for undergraduate students and $34,000 per academic year for graduate students.

An additional $6,000 allowance can be used for books and materials and to cover travel costs for professional development events, including a required job fair in Washington, D.C.

“As a full-time student with two kids, and no job, the scholarship made a huge difference in my family's daily lives. I didn't need to rely on loans to make ends meet and could focus on my schoolwork instead of a job to help feed my family.” -- Gary Shatraw Jr., recent graduate of the SFS program

To be selected for an SFS scholarship, students must major in Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Management of Information Systems, or Criminal Justice; carry a minimum 3.0 GPA; and succeed in a highly competitive application and interview process.

Multiyear SFS students are required to participate in an internship during the summer between academic years. Students also must commit to work for a government agency for, at a minimum, the number of years equal to that of their scholarship.

Sac State’s program has a 94% job placement rate, due in part to the solid relationships the program has established with federal and state agencies.

Arad said the program, which offers professional development opportunities for faculty, has helped Sac State gain recognition from many of the agencies involved, benefiting SFS and non-SFS students.

“We cannot award this scholarship to every student, but nevertheless, every Computer Science student can go through and take these courses and get the expertise,” he said, adding that he’s heard from several non-SFS graduates who got cybersecurity-related jobs at government agencies. “It has been very important for Sac State to be part of this program.”

Nationally, the NSF-run program spans 98 institutions across 39 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The NSF has awarded more than $50 million nationally in 2023 to support it.

"Cybersecurity is critical to our nation’s economic and national security,” said Sethuraman Panchanathan, NSF director. “Through this program, NSF has helped more than 4,500 students get the degrees they need to be part of the cybersecurity workforce and helped them give back through public service."

The program better positions Sac State as a pipeline for highly qualified, highly prepared cybersecurity professionals, said ECS Dean Kevan Shafizadeh. He said it gives students entry into an industry that desperately needs a skilled workforce.

“The SFS program is an outstanding program in many ways,” Shafizadeh said. “It provides outstanding student support, I think, more than any other scholarship that we provide. It's a perfect example of a win-win situation for the University and the federal government, in support of our students in a high-need, technical area.”

Recent Computer Science graduate Mindy Cha, an awardee of the program who now works as a computer scientist for the U.S. Air Force, said SFS was invaluable.

“I really like the program,” Cha said. “It allowed me to completely focus on my education and provided opportunities to make (connections) with other people who were in the cybersecurity field.”

Another recent program graduate, Gary Shatraw Jr., said having a portion of his education paid for made a significant difference for his family.

“As a full-time student with two kids, and no job, the scholarship made a huge difference in my family's daily lives,” said Shatraw, who works as an IT examination analyst at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. “I didn't need to rely on loans to make ends meet and could focus on my schoolwork instead of a job to help feed my family.”

Portrait of Dr. Arad

Sac State training for area K-12 educators to teach computer science

Stock image of students on computers

A new grant from the National Science Foundation is supporting Sacramento State's Computer Science Supplementary Authorization (CSSA) program, which trains area K-12 educators to teach increasingly critical computer science skills to young students. (iStock Photo)

By Daniel Wilson: April 20, 2023

As society rapidly adopts new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, understanding the science behind them is increasingly crucial.

“We're so reliant on (technology), and so, shouldn't you have the power to understand how it works, why it works that way?” asked Anna Baynes, assistant professor of Computer Science at Sac State. “Any industry you go into, you're going to have to use a computer.”

Key to that understanding is high-quality K-12 computer science education, and since 2021, Sac State’s Computer Science Supplementary Authorization (CSSA) program has trained area educators to teach the subject.

That program has received new funding from the National Science Foundation to continue its work providing local classrooms with diverse and highly qualified computer science teachers.

The $360,000 Computer Science for all (CSForAll) grant will fund partial tuition reimbursement for up to 10 teachers per year over the next several years. The grant also will fund the program’s growth as it evolves. Previously, the CSU Chancellor’s Office paid for the reimbursements.

“Businesses that traditionally don't involve computer science are now recruiting our computer scientists and computer engineers. In order to meet that demand, we need to be graduating more computer scientists and computer engineers.” -- Kevan Shafizadeh, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science

The CSForAll grant is part of the NSF’s effort to allow students to participate in computer science and computational thinking education. Four CSU campuses – Sac State, San Francisco State, San Jose State, and Sonoma State – received a total of $2 million in grant funding.

“There's a big push to provide these (programs in the CSU), because that's where we have a lot of teacher credential programs,” said Baynes, who was among Sac State faculty who developed the program in 2021 and partnered to obtain the grant. “With the CSSA program, we're trying to make more teachers who have that background (in computer science), so they feel confident in the classroom.”

CSSA is a collaboration among the College of Engineering and Computer Science and the College of Education, along with the College of Continuing Education, which administers the program.

Credentialed teachers who complete the fully online program can apply for a “supplementary authorization” allowing them to teach computer science in K-12 settings even if their undergraduate degree was not in the field.

In addition to Baynes, the faculty members behind the program include Computer Science Professors Jun Dai and Xiaoyan “Sherry” Sun; Deidre Sessoms, associate dean for Instruction and Student Success in the College of Education; and Teaching Credentials Professor Chia-Jung Chung, who ensured the program’s curriculum was relevant to current educators.

“You don't teach something to a 22-year-old the same way you teach it to a 12-year-old,” Sessoms said. “(Chung) was able to help our faculty in Computer Science learn how to teach a teacher with methods that match what the teacher is going to use, that are engaging, that are focused on problems that youth care about, that are interactive.”

From the beginning, the CSSA program was designed to offer flexibility to full-time K-12 teachers for whom attending classes while working can be challenging, said program manager Jessika Morrison. The program runs from June through December and includes four courses, taken one at a time rather than concurrently, and scheduled in the evening.

“While … the courses are online, they do have specific meeting dates, which have synchronous components,” Morrison said. “So, the students don't really feel like they're just doing their own thing online. They feel supported in that it's kind of a cohesive class with other teachers … (which) lends to a great deal of community.”

The CSSA program may also benefit Sac State and regional employers. Having more K-12 educators teaching computer science could attract a larger and more diverse group to major in the field in college, said Kevan Shafizadeh, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

“Most people don't realize that computer science and data analysis is becoming more embedded in everything,” Shafizadeh said. “Businesses that traditionally don't involve computer science are now recruiting our computer scientists and computer engineers. In order to meet that demand, we need to be graduating more computer scientists and computer engineers.”

Beyond that, like all STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, learning computer science helps K-12 students develop skills such as problem solving and critical thinking, said Sessoms.

“Clearly, we live in a technologically complex world,” she said. “You need to learn how to analyze data, and you need to understand … how to reason quantitatively, how to make sense out of the statistics that you read every day about the climate, about the world. And computer science skills are a really great way to teach that.”

For more information on the CSSA program, which is accepting applications through May 26, visit the program’s webpage.

National Science Foundation (NSF) grant awarded to Dr. Meduri

Dr. Meduri receives a $595,000 grant from National Science Foundation (NSF)

Portrait of Dr. MeduriDr. Praveen Meduri, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at California State University, Sacramento, has taken a unique approach to engage students and provide them with authentic, active learning experiences aimed at reducing the equity gap and improving graduation rates. His innovative proposal, known as Project Ace, focuses on implementing active learning strategies in six bottleneck courses within his department. Project Ace holds great promise for making a significant impact on historically minoritized students by bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application. This initiative aims to enhance students' understanding, self-efficacy, graduation rates, and career readiness. With a four-year award set to begin this fall, Dr. Meduri's collaborators for Project Ace include Dr. Milica Markovich and Dr. Mohammed Eltayeb from the College of Engineering and Computer Science, along with Dr. Catherine Ishikawa from the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

Congratulations, Dr. Meduri, on receiving the prestigious Project Ace Award! Your commitment to excellence truly makes you an ACE professor.

2021 & 2022 News & Achievements

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