Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has been awarded $4.9 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Defense (DoD) to support the university’s cybersecurity scholarship programs in an ongoing effort to fill a critical need for cybersecurity workers in federal government positions. The funding provides generous scholarships through two separate programs at WPI for undergraduate and graduate students who commit to government service, after graduation, to address cyber threats and challenges facing the nation.
In late 2019, a jobs report stated four million cybersecurity workers would be needed globally to close the skills gap. With record numbers of people now working from home and companies, organizations, and agencies—including the U.S. government—moving services online, the demand for a skilled cyber defense workforce is soaring.
"Federal agencies need security experts and these scholarship programs are an excellent way to attract student attention and interest," said Craig Shue, computer science associate professor and the director of the WPI Scholarships for Service program. "We have strong opportunities in security education, particularly in computer science and electrical and computer engineering that can help our students learn how to meet federal needs."
NSF Funding for the CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service (SFS) Program
The award from the National Science Foundation is a renewal of the CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service (SFS) program, which WPI has offered since 2015. The program will support 25 students over five years and provides full tuition, a generous stipend, academic fees, and a book allowance. Students may apply in their sophomore year. For each year of the scholarship—up to three years—students commit to one year of post-graduation paid employment with the government in cybersecurity. Recipients also take summer internships with federal agencies prior to graduating.
The CyberCorps SFS program has been highly competitive at WPI, with typical acceptance rates of 12%-18%. This high demand allows WPI to admit highly qualiﬁed students into the program who show a genuine commitment to serving the national need. The SFS program provides a very strong financial incentive for students while giving the government access to top talent that often gets recruited to private industry.
DoD Funding for the Cyber Scholarship Program (CySP)
The second award is from the DoD. The agency’s Cyber Scholarship Program (CySP) is similar to the NSF CyberCorps’ mission to recruit top cyber talent to help protect the nation against threats. To be considered for CySP, a student must apply directly to the DoD with a school’s recommendation. This year, for the first time, a WPI student has been selected for this prestigious and highly competitive program. Harrison Kyriacou, a member of the Class 2022, was one of 120 recipients nationwide offered a CySP scholarship. In addition to full tuition, Kyriacou is guaranteed a job within a DoD agency after graduation.
“Every day we hear about hacks or data breaches, and protecting our national security from cyber threats is only going to become more important,” said Kyriacou. “I am so grateful for the scholarship and the opportunity to focus on my studies while knowing that I have a meaningful internship and employment lined up for after graduation.”
“These awards demonstrate the university’s strengths in cybersecurity research and education," said Craig Wills, WPI computer science professor and department head. “They also have a multiplicative effect as the program helps us attract top students who will ultimately help bolster our nation’s cyber defenses in critical areas of network and system security.”
A school must be designated as a National Center for Excellence to offer the CySP scholarship to its students. WPI received the designation as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research in 2014 and was redesignated in 2019.