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Dakota State Partners With NSA, Puts $90M into Cyber Research

Dakota State University is partnering with the National Security Agency and investing heavily in recruiting, research and facilities in order to build a regional hub for cybersecurity studies and workforce development.

A digital rendering of a building to be constructed.
A rendering from Dakota State University's Applied Research Lab (ARL) in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Photo credit: Dakota State University website
Noting growing demand for cybersecurity expertise nationwide, Dakota State University (DSU) is looking to cement its role as a cybersecurity research and training hub for the upper midwest through heavy investment and a new partnership with the National Security Agency (NSA).

According to a pair of recent announcements, the university has committed $90 million to a five-year initiative for expanding cybersecurity research and education, and it’s partnering with NSA for faculty training and technical assistance. As part of the $90 million, the university plans to recruit more students and specialized faculty, launch a Governors Cyber Academy on the Madison campus, and construct a specialized facility that will be co-owned by the state and open in the fall of 2025, aiming to support 400 to 500 full-time jobs, according to a news release.

In addition to personnel training and mentoring, officials said the partnership with NSA could also provide curriculum development assistance, guest lectures, and researchers for DSU’s Applied Research Lab or Madison Cyber Labs, which study technology application, adverse event planning and other IT security-related subjects.

DSU President José-Marie Griffiths told Government Technology that the partnership will build off recent university efforts to expand DSU’s cybersecurity education and research programming, adding that the university is designated as a National Security Agency Cyber Education Center of Excellence and has worked previously with the agency on several initiatives.

“NSA can send researchers to work at DSU on some projects that they’re interested in, perhaps with our Applied Research Lab or one of our MadLabs,” Griffiths said, adding that DSU’s labs could serve as a focal point for collaborative research. “We’ve already had people from NSA come to the campus to visit with our students and talk about career opportunities, and we’ve also had some of our faculty go to NSA in the summer and work with people there. ... The idea is that developing a closer relationship between people here at DSU and people at NSA will lead to further collaborations.”

According to Griffiths, the goal of these projects and the partnership with NSA is to make DSU and its labs a regional hub for cyber education and research in the years to come. The move comes as universities across the country pursue similar initiatives to expand offerings in cybersecurity education and research.

“We want to create a hub for cyber research that can support both the nation’s needs, as well as regional needs, and we hope that that, in turn, will attract others to bring their resources close by,” she said. “We intend to have others perhaps bring research groups to Sioux Falls so we can gradually grow and enhance the cyber research industry in the middle of the country.”

Griffiths said another aim of DSU’s recent initiatives and partnership with NSA is to provide students with more practical work experience and training, such as internships and research experience, before entering the cybersecurity workforce. She said employers are finding many applicants lack the skills needed to fill the nation’s 600,000 IT security job vacancies — 3,000 of which are in North and South Dakota.

“One of the things we are able to offer faculty, students and research staff is the ability to do research they might otherwise have to go to Washington, D.C., to do, and we can do it right here. … They can continue to develop and at the same time, they’re building their resumes with practical applications,” she said. “There are a lot of people graduating with cybersecurity degrees, but they’re not ready for day one on the job. All institutions have to take this seriously. We have to give people more practical experience, and they need more hands-on experience.”
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.