Montana State University

11/13/2023 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 11/13/2023 12:06

Gallatin College MSU designated as National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense

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Gallatin College instructor Lisa Brown and a student examine code in a class Friday, November 3, 2023. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham

BOZEMAN - The National Security Agency has designated Gallatin College Montana State University as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense. This is in recognition of MSU's high-quality programs that prepare students to protect and promote America's national security and economic prosperity.

"On a national level, this designation validates our cybersecurity program, its rigor and the value of the curriculum for the students," said Stephanie Gray, dean of Gallatin College MSU. "This designation will provide more opportunities for students at a global level."

The National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense, a program managed by the NSA's National Cryptologic School, notified Gallatin College MSU of the designation on Oct. 24. The designation runs through the end of the academic year in 2028.

The designation recognizes Gallatin College MSU for its curriculum and educational efforts in the pursuit of the National Cyber Strategy, which was implemented by the NSA in 2018 to fill workforce shortages of vital cybersecurity professionals. This program allows the NSA to create a cooperative cybersecurity curriculum for colleges and universities across the nation. This curriculum establishes competency in faculty and students, emphasizes community outreach, integrates cybersecurity practices and solves problems that face the industry, according to the NSA webpage.

"The quality of our programs is important for our community to see," Gray added. "You can get the level of training essential for federal government agencies such as the National Security Agency here in Bozeman."

Ronda Black, director of information technology at Gallatin College MSU, worked to obtain this designation for the cybersecurity program, which offers associate degrees that prepare students to immediately join the workforce.

"You must get your program of study approved," she said. "What that entails is a full evaluation of all the curriculum that you teach. They go through everything with a fine-tooth comb ensuring the academics are at standard. You must show community involvement and how the students are involved in extracurricular activities."

Black worked closely with faculty and staff in MSU's master's of science in cybersecurity program to receive the designation.

"This designation gives Gallatin College MSU the opportunity to apply for different grant funding," Black said. "If you are a CAE-accredited institution, it gives students lots of opportunities. Students now have the chance to compete with other CAE-accredited institutions nationally and internationally."

Gallatin College MSU is working with industry partners in the Gallatin Valley to host a cyber competition and career networking event for high school and college level students on Nov. 17. Free lunch will be provided.

"Getting people more aware to secure their data and devices is vital," Black said. "The students at Gallatin College MSU are getting a wealth of information. Some students are getting jobs before they graduate. The need for this type of education is vital. Local industries are hiring straight into security operations centers because it is so in demand."

MSU is a complete hub for cybersecurity training in Montana, encompassing workforce development, research, pedagogy and industry engagement. The university has received more than $8 million in funding from many sources over the last five years. Funding comes from the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, national laboratories, the National Science Foundation and private industry. In September 2022, MSU received $4.47 million to research improved methods for resisting cyberattacks, and in addition to Gallatin College MSU's two-year associate degree in cybersecurity information assurance, MSU offers a master of science in cybersecurity, making its graduates highly sought-after candidates for jobs in the industry.

Additionally, as part of the Northwest Virtual Institute for Cybersecurity Education and Research, which recently received $1.5 million from the Department of Defense, MSU offers cybersecurity training to a select number of its Air Force ROTC students. Through the NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program, MSU mentors roughly 10 undergraduates from across the U.S. in cybersecurity each summer.