The Texas A&M Cybersecurity Center has become the latest of the university system’s programs to receive national attention, earning a dual designation as a National Center for Academic Excellence from the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security in education and research.
Earlier this week at the National Cyber Security Summit in Huntsville, Alabama, the center — which was established in fall 2015 and is operated in tandem by Texas A&M University and the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station — was formally recognized by the NSA and DHS.
Texas A&M Cybersecurity Center Director Daniel Ragsdale said the recognition adds “prestige” to the center and opens up new opportunities for both its students and faculty through grants and potential internship programs.
The center’s core functions, Ragsdale explained, are realized through the research conducted by faculty and the minor program offered to Texas A&M students.
“We want to try to facilitate that groundbreaking research that’s going to develop new capabilities and new technologies that are going to make a difference,” Ragsdale said. “We’re very confident that we’re going to be able to make contributions there. The opportunities for sponsored research in this area are just ever increasing.”
With the minor program, Ragsdale emphasized the importance of bringing in students with diverse backgrounds ranging from engineering to the social sciences.
“You would think that it would be only technology, but there is an enormous human dimension to cybersecurity,” Ragsdale said. “This minor that we’ve developed allows students to get a core foundation in cybersecurity topics, but then take additional courses to round out the minor, which fall into disciplines that are not in the college of engineering.”
On a philosophical level, Ragsdale said this diversity and flexibility in the program is one of the main reasons why the center is not seeking to establish a major program for cybersecurity.
In addition to the minor program and the research being conducted at the center, Ragsdale said there is also a cybersecurity club with roughly 50 active members, which he said spends most of its time either participating in competitions or engaging in community service projects in the Bryan-College Station area.
Ragsdale noted that students who choose to be educated in the field of cybersecurity are in “tremendous demand” out in the work force as the field becomes more and more critical to the daily life of the general public.
“This is important not just for the sake of protecting intellectual property for large companies, but there are social issues involved as well,” Ragsdale said. “The need for a free people to have a sense of privacy. That is an integral part of what we are as a people and as a culture.”
It is this potential to serve that Ragsdale said has impressed him most about the students who are participating in the program.
While he said going into the field would assure a financially secure career, Ragsdale said he has been “inspired” by how many of the students have expressed that they are driven by their desire to serve.
“They really, truly want to make a difference and they see this as an avenue through which they can do it,” Ragsdale said.
Although the center and the minor program are relatively new, Ragsdale said Texas A&M has been educating students in the realm of cyber defense since the 1990s.
Ragsdale added that much of the center’s growth over the past year has been thanks to the support of several high-level administrators, particularly Kathy Banks, vice chancellor of engineering and dean of the Dwight Look College of Engineering.
To learn more about the Texas A&M Cybersecurity Center, visit cybersecurity.tamu.edu.
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