Science & Technology

UWF receives $3 million NSA grant to expand the National Cybersecurity Workforce Development Program

The University of West Florida received a $3 million grant extension by the National Security Agency to expand the national cybersecurity workforce development program, CyberSkills2Work, following a successful launch of the program last year.

center for cybersecurity staff and students reviewing graphs on a whiteboard

In September 2020, the NSA awarded UWF a $6 million grant to lead a coalition of 10 institutions designated as National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity to establish a national program addressing the critical shortage of qualified cybersecurity professionals in the U.S.

“This additional funding will help expand the National Cybersecurity Workforce Development Program to include additional cybersecurity training pathways, work roles, employers, CAE schools and target audiences, and create a truly sustainable and scalable national program,” said Dr. Eman El-Sheikh, associate vice president for the UWF Center for Cybersecurity. “It will move us one step closer toward resolving the cybersecurity workforce shortage—for good.”

The national workforce program focuses on preparing and placing transitioning military, first responders and veterans into cybersecurity work roles in our nation’s Critical Infrastructure Sectors, including financial services, defense industrial base and energy. Each coalition institution offers cybersecurity workforce pathways that prepare participants for various cybersecurity work roles, aligned with the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, or NICE, Cybersecurity Workforce Framework.

The program aims to prepare and place over 1,650 trained cybersecurity professionals in the next two years, establish a National Cybersecurity Employers Network, and national portal to serve as a one-stop shop for students, employers and institutions. The coalition welcomed 276 students into the program in 2021, and recruitment for the 2022 UWF cohorts will begin in January.

“The National Security Agency is excited to partner with University of West Florida on expanding educational initiatives through the CyberSkills2Work program,” said Diane M. Janosek, NSA’s Lead Training instructor and Commandant of NSA’s National Cryptologic School. “Their innovative workforce development program is developing a pipeline of ‘cyber first responders’ equipped with the knowledge, skills and abilities to address the nation’s critical infrastructure cyber sector needs.”

Through the program, students develop core cybersecurity competencies and hands-on skills through stackable and verifiable credentials and industry certifications. The program integrates cutting-edge topics and technologies, including artificial intelligence, machine learning and threat intelligence.

“The CyberSkills2Work program gave me a new perspective on the many aspects of cybersecurity,” said Wallace Williams, UWF CyberSkills2Work program graduate. “I am able to build off the fundamentals and use the knowledge gained from courses like Threat Intelligence and Assessment, Network Defense, and protecting Windows-based and Linux servers to enhance and upskill my current skill set. It’s a great program for transitioning service members, veterans, and first responders considering a career change into Cyber. I’m proud to have been a member of the first cohort of UWF CyberSkills2Work.”

Justin Rhoads, a program graduate, recently accepted a job at Genesis Energy L.P. and started working as an Operational Technology Security Analyst.

“I chose to apply for the CyberSkills2Work program because it was an exciting opportunity to learn a new skill set in a field that has a very promising future,” Rhoads said. “As a veteran, this program equipped me with the valuable skills that I needed to enter into a new career field and secure a job in the cybersecurity industry. Because of the CyberSkills2Work program I now have a promising new career, a bright future, and I have bettered the lives of myself and my family.”

UWF leads a team of nationally designated cybersecurity institutions, including Augusta University, Dakota State University, Eastern New Mexico University – Ruidoso, Florida International University, University of Houston, Metropolitan State University, San Antonio College, Cyber Florida at the University of South Florida and the University of Texas at San Antonio.

For more information about UWF’s cybersecurity workforce development program, visit uwf.edu/cyberskills2work. To inquire about student or employer participation in the workforce program, contact cybersecurity@uwf.edu.