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Kean University Named Cybersecurity Center of Excellence

The university joins over 300 others across the U.S. as part of an ongoing initiative by the National Security Agency to promote cybersecurity education amid a rise in cyber attacks in both the public and private sectors.

Jing-Chiou Liou Teaching Class.jpg
Associate Professor Jing-Chiou Liou, Ph.D., teaches a computer science class.
(Kean University)
Kean University in New Jersey has been named a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD) by the National Security Agency for its programs preparing cybersecurity professionals to fight off rampant cyber attacks across public- and private-sector industries.

According to a recent news release, the designation will allow Kean students and faculty to seek funding from the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation and NSA for cybersecurity research grants and scholarships. The CAE-CD program designation will also give the university chances to participate in collaborative research with other NSA National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense, Cyber Research and Cyber Operations.

The designation comes shortly after legislators in New Jersey passed the Water Quality Accountability Act requiring water purveyors to develop more rigorous cybersecurity policies in response to a cyber attack that disrupted operations at the Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority in 2020.

Stan Mierzwa, a cybersecurity lecturer and assistant director of Kean’s Center for Cybersecurity who led the university’s designation initiative, said the need to train cybersecurity experts for these scenarios remains critical as schools, manufacturers and other industries digitize operations — creating IT vulnerabilities in the process.

“Defense is extremely important. Today, you can’t turn on the news without hearing about some sort of cybersecurity incident or cyber crime incident,” he said of the rise in threats like ransomware attacks, which the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency cited in an advisory this week as a “growing international threat.”

As cyber threats increase, so too have workforce demands. Mierzwa said there are currently nearly 14,000 open cybersecurity positions in the state of New Jersey, according to Cyberseek’s Cybersecurity Supply and Demand Heat Map.

“In New York, there are over 20,000 positions open,” he said. “If you just look at our region, you’re talking upwards of what could be over 50,000 positions available in cybersecurity, so there’s a demand for this in our area.”

According to Mierzwa, the university has worked in recent years to build a multidisciplinary approach to teaching cybersecurity across other fields, such as criminal justice. The school also requires all students to take cybersecurity awareness training to stay vigilant against common cyber threats like phishing scams.

“What we emphasize is a multidisciplinary approach to cybersecurity education. For example, I teach courses in cybersecurity in our Department of Criminal Justice, and it’s not uncommon for me to get students from our computer science or information technology areas to take courses to collaborate with those studying or pursuing criminal justice degrees,” he said. “One of our key features is our collaboration and being able to apply that [knowledge] across the board.”

Mierzwa said the university hopes to build on its course catalog with the help of funding offered through the NSA-sponsored program to provide students with more opportunities for hands-on IT training and cybersecurity simulation exercises, among other plans.

“We’re looking at creating a lab with a cyber range to give students real-world experience in trying to solve or investigate complex cyber issues,” he said.
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.