Fordham’s Center for Cybersecurity has secured a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that will enable the University to provide full scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students who wish to earn a degree in cybersecurity.

The grant, “CyberCorps Scholarship for Service: Preparing Future Cybersecurity Professionals with Data Science Expertise,” was announced by the foundation on Jan. 21. It is the largest grant the Center for Cybersecurity has ever received, and is also the largest grant for cybersecurity scholarships that is funded by the federal government, according to center founder and director Thaier Hayajneh, Ph.D. Hayajneh was the principal investigator for the grant, while Gary Weiss, Ph.D., professor of computer and information sciences, was the co-principal investigator.

Recognition of Skills and Quality

Thaier Hayajneh, Ph.D., professor of computer science,
Photo by Chris Taggart

“It’s a recognition that we have the ability to produce the graduates who have the skills and the qualities to serve the nation’s needs in cybersecurity,” said Hayajneh, a University Professor in the department of computer and information sciences.

Over the course of the five years, Hayajneh said, the fund is expected to cover the full tuition, health insurance, housing, and related expenses for 44 “student years.” Students can earn scholarships for up three years of study, so an undergraduate could use the funds to cover their third and fourth year of studies and their first year of master’s studies, or their final year of undergraduate studies and two years of a master’s degree. A student who enrolls in the department’s new doctoral program could have their entire three years of study covered by the grant.

A Commitment to Service

The grant is similar to one that the center was awarded in 2020 by the United States Department of Defense. Students who accept the scholarship make a commitment to work for at least two to three years for a federal agency such as the National Security Agency. This grant is larger and more flexible though, as it is not restricted to specific individuals chosen by a government agency.

Fordham is one of eight universities to join the CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program this year, which currently includes 82 universities representing 37 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

Key to the landing the grant, Hayajneh said, was a demonstration of both Fordham’s excellence in the field of cybersecurity and data science and the heartfelt desire of its students to serve the United States, rather than simply parlay their degree into a lucrative career in the private sector. In a 20 minute in-person meeting in November, Fordham was able to show that its graduates have that kind of commitment, and Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, assured grant administrators the same.

Data Science Expertise

Fordham brings to the table unique expertise in both cybersecurity and data science, Hayajneh said, through the department of computer and information sciences and the Gabelli School of Business. Students with experience in data mining and machine learning will be better equipped to work with computer systems that can predict, and not just respond, to security breaches.

“They will not only be able to detect attacks when they occur, but they will also have the ability to predict and prevent attacks before they even occur. This is very important because you want to stop the damage before it even starts,” he said.

“After you assure them that your program is ready, and you’ll have the best graduates in cybersecurity with some data science expertise, they want to make sure that you can contribute to another component, which is that you’ll assure their success rate,’ Hayajneh said.

The Scholarship for Service program has a 95% success rate of placing graduates in government jobs; Hayajneh said that the University was able to point to previous alumni who’ve gone into careers in government as proof of Fordham students’ commitment to service.

Ultimately, he said, the scholarships, which are open to students of all majors and schools in the fall of 2022, are an ideal way to get a foot in the door of a challenging but rewarding field.

Experience and Mentorship

“Even if you graduate from the best program in the world, it’s always hard to start that first cybersecurity job because of a lack of experience,” he said.

That’s because the stakes are so much higher in the field than in others. An inexperienced network administrator can accidentally delete old records, invade someone’s privacy, or give enemies control of their networks, he said.

“This opportunity will guarantee students the ability to work in one of the top agencies in the cybersecurity field,” he said.

Additional Academic Partners

On Jan. 24 Fordham received word of another academic partnership in cybersecurity education: The University was accepted into the United States Cyber Command Academic Engagement Network. The newly formed network brings together 84 universities and colleges and government institutions such as the Cyber National Mission Force, U.S. Fleet Cyber Command, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command, and the U.S. Coast Guard Cyber Command. The partnership will focus on future workforce development, applied cyber research, analytic partnerships, and cyber strategic dialogue.




Patrick Verel is a news producer for Fordham Now. He can be reached at [email protected] or (212) 636-7790.