‘A Chance to Make the World a Safer Place’
LSU Doubles Federally Funded Effort to Educate, Graduate Cyber Talent for National Security
With $600,000 in additional support from the National Science Foundation, or NSF, LSU is rapidly expanding its Scholarship for Service CyberCorps program to grow a bigger, better cyber workforce for the state and nation.
This fall, LSU Baton Rouge doubled its current cohort of Scholarship for Service, or SFS, students from 12 to 25. All students receive free tuition and generous scholarships in return for some government service after graduation.
“LSU’s CyberCorps program is focused on teaching students specialized cybersecurity skills, including memory forensics, malware analysis and machine learning,” NSF CyberCorps Program Director Li Yang said. “The significant expansion of LSU’s CyberCorps program in recent years magnetizes talent, reinforcing the workforce development needed to safeguard our nation’s digital world and cyber infrastructure.”
LSU joined the two-decade SFS program in 2020 through an initial $3.4-million award over five years. Now in its fourth year, the LSU program has quickly grown to be one of the largest in the country. The total number of SFS schools is 98.
LSU’s SFS scholarships are $27K per year for undergraduates and $37K for graduate students. In addition, students receive $6K for professional development, which can be used for laptops, certifications and travel, including to the annual SFS job fair in Washington, DC. The primary goal of the fair is to match students with federal employers for internships and future careers.
“I continue to be blown away by the quality of our students, and I’m not alone,” said Golden G. Richard III, professor in the division of computer science and engineering in the LSU College of Engineering, associate director for cybersecurity at the LSU Center for Computation & Technology, interim director of the LSU Cyber Center and principal investigator on the LSU SFS grant. “As an example, at the last SFS job fair, we had recruiters coming after the LSU students even after the day was over, like when we were playing bocce ball at midnight.”
Six SFS students have already graduated from LSU with bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. Most of them are now working for federal agencies and national labs. Ryan Maggio from Slidell earned his PhD in computer science as an SFS student at LSU and now works at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, which researches and develops advanced technologies for national security.
“At Lincoln Lab, I get to help secure internet-connected devices and make the internet safer for everyone,” Maggio said. “The SFS program not only provided the funding that allowed me to finish my degree, but gave me the connections to move into an exciting career and do work I think is important.”
New to the LSU SFS program this year is Lillian Beck from Austin, Texas. A junior and computer science major, Beck is a golfer and “die-hard Tiger” who takes pride in coaching classmates on vector calculus and other advanced topics in math.
“The need for cyber professionals is crucial in this digital age. That’s why I’m so eager to contribute and make an impact,” said Beck, who has already made the President’s Honor Roll and the Dean’s List. “SFS is an amazing opportunity, and I’m so excited to be working for the government on homeland security.”
Brennen Calato from Mandeville, Louisiana, graduated from LSU as a university medalist with a bachelor’s degree in computer science last semester and is now pursuing a master’s degree in computer science at LSU. He is one year into the SFS program and does research to solve cybercrimes.
“I originally chose computer science as I didn’t want to go to graduate school. Ironically, I love what I’m doing now enough, I ended up in graduate school anyway,” Calato said. “Cybersecurity is ever-present and used in everything around us. It’s the most important part of software and systems, even if the user doesn’t see or interact with most of it.”
Calato also looks forward to government service.
“I think government service is a very fulfilling role,” he said. “It’s a chance to give back to the community, which includes strangers, but also the people who have loved and supported you your whole life. It’s a chance to make the world a safer place.”
Another graduate student at LSU who joined the SFS program last year is George Adler Buras from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He researches election security and alternative voting systems in the LSU Applied Cybersecurity Lab in the Center for Computation & Technology. He spent the summer as a cyberoperations intern with the U.S. Department of Defense.
“I want to apply my technical skills to securing our democracy,” Buras said. “My favorite thing about cybersecurity is that protecting people and systems from hackers makes a meaningful impact on people’s lives. There’s also a sense of competition as you try to outsmart the hackers that I find enjoyable.”
The rapid growth of LSU’s SFS program mirrors the overall rise of computer science among all LSU engineering disciplines over the past five years, driven by increased student interest in cybersecurity. Ranked fifth in College of Engineering enrollment in fall 2018, the computer science department now ranks at the very top, with 1,115 students enrolled this fall. Among them, at least 196 have opted for the cybersecurity concentration, launched three years ago with 20 students—a ten-fold increase.
“SFS students go on to do great things,” said Brandon Lara, LSU SFS student from Baton Rouge, who’s on the PhD track but came to college late, after a professional dance career and on-screen appearance in Pitch Perfect 2. “I think some people misunderstand what government service entails. It’s a job, and a really good one. The pay is good, the benefits are good, and there are government facilities looking for employees in every city. It’s not a subpar experience to working in private industry.”
Lara recently completed an internship at Los Alamos National Lab, of recent Oppenheimer fame, and is now interning at MITRE, a national-security-focused research lab.
“I can’t imagine a life for myself where I’m not working on the hardest problems I can find,” Lara continued. “Cybersecurity captivated me because it’s difficult and I enjoy the research I do. I’m happy I can make a difference with it. I just hope to keep doing that, wherever I go.”