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$3 million National Science Foundation grant renews support for Sac State’s 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 begain 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)

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.”

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About Daniel Wilson

Daniel Wilson joined the Sac State communications team in 2022 as a writer and editor. He previously worked at the Sacramento Bee as an audience engagement producer and reporter. He graduated from Sac State with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism in 2018. He plays video games, watches pro wrestling, and loves spending time with his wife and cat.

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