A national designation in 2017 is reaping dividends in 2018 for University of Wisconsin-Stout.
The university was named last year as a national Center of Academic Excellence for Cyber Defense, the first in the UW System. The designation helps select higher education institutions with computer-related programs prepare the U.S. against cybersecurity threats.
As a result of the designation, which goes through 2022, UW-Stout recently received a $207,000 grant from U.S. Department of Defense; a student has received a major scholarship; and enrollment in a related major has increased.
As part of the CAE-CD national network, UW-Stout was eligible to apply for the federal grant through the National Security Agency. The university’s proposal was to host cybersecurity workshops for 50 instructors from 25 technical colleges in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The first workshops will be held Thursday and Friday, Nov. 1-2, on campus and again in the spring.
“We wanted to reach out to these colleges to do something collaborative with this grant money,” said Professor Byron Anderson, chair of the communication technologies department. “This is something we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish otherwise.”
The workshops will be hosted by the Bachelor of Science program in computer networking and information technology, led by Professor Holly Yuan, program director.
The visiting instructors will have hands-on lab experiences in ethical hacking labs covering cloud computing, mobile technology, wireless security and more, with the goal to take knowledge back to their classrooms.
UW-Stout has degree completion agreements with most regional technical colleges, allowing students who earn associate degrees to transfer their credits toward earning a bachelor’s.
“We’ve built these labs around the technology and are excited to make them available to the technical colleges,” Yuan said.
Part of the grant also is being used for student scholarships. Approximately 1,000 students in a group of majors are eligible to apply. A UW-Stout student, whose name wasn’t made public by the NSA for security reasons, has received the first such scholarship, $25,000.
UW-Stout has many scientific, technical and managerial disciplines and related to cybersecurity or a concentration in cybersecurity. They include the bachelor’s and master’s programs in information communication technologies; applied mathematics and computer science; computer science; professional science master’s in industrial and applied mathematics; and computer engineering.
Students at Center of Academic Excellence institutions like UW-Stout can receive a national cybersecurity certification by taking 13 required courses.
Program growth, student perspective
The computer networking program has 150 students this fall, up more than 7 percent over 2017. Most of that increase is new women students, which can be attributed at least partly to attention the program has received through the national designation, Yuan said.
Student Nikki Ruf, of Eagan, Minn., didn’t start in the CNIT program at UW-Stout but has switched to the major.
“I toured a lot of colleges. I chose UW-Stout because it had so many computer-based programs that whatever program I took I knew it would be a good one,” Ruf said.
Her interest in computers goes back to her childhood, when she participated in DigiGirlz, a Microsoft YouthSpark program for middle and high school girls.
Ruf enjoys the CNIT program at UW-Stout in part because it’s lab-based. “Very rarely is there a lecture. Usually it’s lab day. The reading and notes are outside of class. We learn the most by troubleshooting in the labs,” she said.
She had an internship last summer in information security project management at U.S. Bank. It gave her insight into the type of career she’d like to pursue. “I’d like to stop all the computer hacking that’s going on. Hopefully someday I can be the person who is securing a company like U.S. Bank,” she said.
New women students have helped boost enrollment in the computer networking and information technology major at UW-Stout. From left are Julia Phillips, Emily Joyce, Dana Hilbert, Nikki Ruf, Evelynn Lennon, Professor Holly Yuan, Sydney Hochstetler and Christinia Ruehmann.