NSF Grant to Provide Scholarships and Training to IST Students

By Jaime Lynch, Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK – Students in Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology who are interested in protecting data from hackers and saboteurs will soon be able to apply for a program in which they will receive scholarship money and expert training for their chosen field.

Anna Squicciarini, assistant professor at the College of IST, and Jan Mahar Sturdevant, senior instructor, were recently awarded $819,522 from the National Science Foundation to support the “Scholarship for Service in Information Assurance Program at the Pennsylvania State University.” The Federal Cyber Service: Scholarship for Service program, which is funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, is designed to “increase and strengthen the cadre of federal information assurance professionals that protect the government’s critical information infrastructure.” Information assurance is the process of protecting data from misuse by people inside or outside a business or organization.

“I would look at it as a three-way win between the agency, our students and our college,” Mahar Sturdevant said.

According to its website, the National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense.” With an annual budget of approximately $6.9 billion, the foundation provides funding for nearly 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by colleges and universities in the United States. The National Science Foundation supports collaborative projects involving academic institutions, private industry and state and local governments.

The Scholarship for Service program provides scholarships that cover the costs of books, tuition and room and board. Additionally, participants receive stipends of up to $8,000 for undergraduate students and $12,000 for graduate students, possibly for up to four years. Under the terms of the scholarship, Penn State students who are awarded the scholarship must serve at a federal agency in an information assurance position for two years following graduation.

Mahar Sturdevant and Squicciarini were the principal investigators for the grant, and were assisted by John Hogdson, a program manager at Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory. He helped Squicciarini and Mahar Sturdevant with the grant proposal, and will provide scholars with resources such as field trips, workshops and contact with recruiters.

The scholarship funds will be distributed over a two-year period to three cohorts of several students, Squicciarini said, at a maximum of 25 students for the entire program. She and Mahar Sturdevant will start recruiting students and screening applicants during the spring 2012 semester. Among the criteria they will evaluate, Squicciarini said, are students’ grade-point averages and their understanding of information assurance and the requirements of the program. Participants must also be U.S. citizens.

In addition to covering educational expenses, Squicciarini said, the major benefit of the Scholarship for Service program is that it provides a “jump start” in the job search process for students who are interested in information assurance. Graduates can pursue careers as information security managers at organizations such as the National Security Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“They will land a job that will take advantage of their training,” Squicciarini said.

The program places no restrictions on the areas of information assurance that students would like to focus on, she added. “[The program] can accommodate a variety of interests for students who are interested in information assurance.”

Penn State students can apply for the program online at http://scholarshipforservice.ist.psu.edu.

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