Once completed, efforts will focus on cybersecurity research, artificial intelligence and collaboration between the university, government and private sector partners.
(TNS) — The University of Texas at San Antonio will receive $70 million from the state’s Permanent University Fund for a pair of buildings that will further position the city and university as a national information security hub, officials said.
Approved unanimously by the UT System Board of Regents on Thursday during an Austin-based telephone conference, the money will develop homes for a National Security Collaboration Center and a School of Data Science, both to be located on the university’s downtown campus.
The center will focus on cybersecurity research and collaboration between the university, government agencies and private sector partners in a $33 million, 80,000-square-foot building. The school will consolidate existing programs and 70-plus faculty members in cybersecurity, cloud computing, data and analytics and artificial intelligence in a $57 million, 138,000-square-foot building.
The intent is to put them close to each other to create a central hub. UTSA President Taylor Eighmy told regents he expects to settle on their locations in the next few weeks and announce where the remaining $20 million needed for the project will come from. He said he hopes to complete construction within two years.
“I do believe we can become a Sillicon Valley equivalent for this focus on data science, information management, information technology and cybersecurity,” Eighmy said in an interview after the meeting.
While some classified activity will take place in the center, undergraduate and graduate students will have opportunities to learn there from potential future employers through training and collaborative work, Eighmy said.
Currently, about 3,500 undergraduate and 400 graduate students at UTSA are pursuing degrees in such fields. It has 10 partnerships with private firms and about a dozen federal partners, including the National Security Agency, U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the U.S. Secret Service, said Bernard Arulanandam, interim vice president for research at UTSA. The partnerships include contracts, collaborative research and agreements to place students and faculty in remote facilities.
“The closer you get people together in collaboration, the faster innovation happens,” Eighmy said. “The whole purpose of the center is to pack densely bright people into one space.”
Such collaboration is “the only way we can move at the speed of relevance in the 21st century,” said Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, the commander of the Air Education and Training Command at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, in a prepared statement. “The model UTSA is creating will help the entire community move forward faster together to create economic opportunity and protect national security.”
Global cybersecurity employers report a shortage of employees to address current threats, according to a study by the business consulting firm Frost & Sullivan for the Center for Cyber Safety and Education. A need for 1.8 million professionals in information security and technology is expected in the United States by 2022, the study said.
The UTSA programs “will help us immeasurably” in building a sustainable workforce pipeline, said Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, president and chief executive officer of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation.
“Having a vibrant downtown campus with dedicated entities focused on data science and cybersecurity supports our targeted growth strategy in IT and cybersecurity to recruit and retain quality employers,” she said.
Last month, Eighmy released a plan to create a bigger downtown university presence integrated with the city’s landscape.
“In a nutshell, I believe great public research universities have a wonderful opportunity to shape the future and those that are situated within an urban environment will have the best chance for that,” he said. “You might even say UTSA is a perfect example of what a future-urban serving university will look like.”
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