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UA Little Rock Receives $800K NSA Grant to Expand Cybersecurity Education, Standardize National Curriculum Guidelines

Philip Huff, left, and Sandra Leiterman, right, head the UA Little Rock CyberGym. Photo by Ben Krain.
Philip Huff, left, an assistant professor of cybersecurity, and Sandra Leiterman, right, manager head the UA Little Rock Cyber Arena. Photo by Ben Krain.

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock, a leader in cybersecurity education, has received a nearly $800,000 grant from the National Security Agency (NSA) to expand a national cybersecurity education program for teachers, as well as develop a standardized curriculum to build pathways for cybersecurity education between high schools and colleges.

Through the grant from the NSA National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity, “Cyber 1 Inauguration,” UA Little Rock, as the lead institution, will help expand the National Cybersecurity Teaching Academy (NCTA), create a free cybersecurity education course for teachers, and update guidelines used to accredit college cybersecurity programs.

“NCTA is an integral component of UA Little Rock’s evolving ecosystem for cybersecurity education,” said Dr. Albert Baker, chair of the Department of Computer Science. “By providing Arkansas high school teachers with the expertise and professional credits to allow them to teach courses in the Arkansas Department of Education cybersecurity pathways, the Department of Computer Science is preparing the upcoming generation of students to pursue higher education in cybersecurity and launch successful careers in this burgeoning field. UA Little Rock is leading, with cooperation from numerous partners, in the development of cybersecurity programs and curricula in Arkansas higher education.”

UA Little will work with academic partners DePaul University and the University of Louisville as well as Dark Enterprises, a women-led nonprofit dedicated to advancing cybersecurity education. Dr. Philip Huff, assistant professor of cybersecurity, and Sandra Leiterman, managing director of the Cyber Arena, will serve as principal investigators.

The NCTA was established in 2021 with a grant from the NSA National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity. The NCTA is a collaboration of 10 institutions in nine states that offer the first credentialing program for high school cybersecurity education in the country. UA Little Rock is one of only three universities in the country who offer the NCTA Teaching Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate, along with the University of Louisville and DePaul University.

The Teaching Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate prepares high school teachers to offer advanced placement courses in cybersecurity. Teachers receive instruction in a nationally recognized cybersecurity curriculum and foundational cybersecurity principles.

The grant will allow the NCTA to provide multiple offerings of its gateway course, Teaching Cybersecurity, at no cost to qualified applicants. Teachers will be able to take the free course for professional development credit. They will also have the option to complete a certification exam for transfer credit to any NCTA institution if they later decide to complete the graduate certificate program. Additionally, the NCTA will expand its 12-hour graduate certificate to 18 hours to meet state requirements that allow educators to teach concurrent credit courses in high school.

In addition, UA Little Rock and its partners will work with the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) to launch a joint task force that will issue an interim update to the Cyber Security Education Consortium (CSEC) guidelines. These guidelines are used to accredit undergraduate cybersecurity programs through ABET, a non-governmental organization that accredits post-secondary education programs in applied and natural science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology.

They will also work to have the introductory High School Cybersecurity Curriculum Guidelines officially recognized by state educators, which will create a standardized curriculum and pathway between high school and college cybersecurity education courses.

The grant will help to fill the workforce gap of qualified cybersecurity professionals that are needed to fill hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country.

“The current institutions involved in the NCTA, including UA Little Rock, are dedicated and passionate in working collaboratively to help advance cybersecurity education in the U.S.,” said Jenny Daughtery, research and curriculum lead at DARK Enterprises. “There is a tremendous need for qualified individuals entering the cybersecurity workforce. reports the workforce shortage in cybersecurity at 715,000. It is critical that we prepare more students to enter this much needed field that helps make cyberspace more secure and trustworthy for everyone. The NCTA Cyber I project will provide the glue between high school, community college, and 4-year universities providing well-defined pathways for interested students. And by preparing more teachers to teach cybersecurity, the NCTA will have an exponential effect on the number of students who gain exposure to this exciting, in-demand career.”

In coordination with the Education Pathway National Center, UA Little Rock and its partners will work to expand the number of institutions that offer the NCTA graduate certificate. They will develop program guidelines and curriculum standards for new and existing NCTA institutions as well as develop guidelines and recommendations for concurrent course transfer and inter-college articulation agreements for the broad acceptance of the Cyber I courses offered by NCTA certified teachers.

“When the NCTA started, the state of Arkansas provided scholarships for 60 teachers to earn the Teaching Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate. This is really unprecedented across the nation,” Huff said. “By standardizing the NCTA, we make it easy for other states to develop the same successful model that Arkansas has created. This ensures that more states can take the same path to educating cybersecurity teachers and having more students coming out of high school with cybersecurity credit who are ready to enter a cybersecurity degree or workforce development program.”

The initial two-year grant comes with an option for a third year with an additional nearly $400,000 in funding, which would bring the total grant amount to nearly $1.2 million.