Thanks to $3 million in grant funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) will launch a new scholarship program for cyber defense students.

According to UNLV, over the next five years the university will establish a CyberCorps Scholarship for Service (SFS) program, housed in the UNLV College of Engineering, to cultivate cybersecurity experts skilled in artificial intelligence and machine learning for service in Federal and local government.

“Incorporating AI and machine learning into cybersecurity is vital as it allows us to proactively identify and combat complex cyber threats, thereby strengthening the protection of our nation’s critical digital infrastructure,” said Juyeon Jo, a project lead and computer science professor at UNLV. “This grant will empower us to educate students in these sophisticated fields, equipping them to bolster government sectors with cutting-edge cybersecurity defenses.”

UNLV explained that the CyberCorps SFS program will attract and mentor high-caliber students from both undergraduate and graduate levels. Additionally, the program will proactively engage with local high schools and community colleges to shore up the talent pipeline. Specifically, the program will place an emphasis on increasing the participation of underrepresented and female students in the cybersecurity domain.

“It is critical that we unleash the enormous talent embedded in our communities and bring new, diverse perspectives into the nation’s cybersecurity workforce,” NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said in a statement. “NSF recognizes the persistent shortage of cybersecurity talent in the United States and strives to bridge this gap by providing diverse student populations with innovative and high-quality educational experiences. This investment reaffirms NSF’s commitment to developing a solid workforce of cybersecurity graduates with integrated AI skills, ready to tackle future cyber threats.”

Recruited students will receive full scholarships and stipends. During their time at UNLV, students will engage in extensive cybersecurity and AI/ML training through a combination of academic coursework, online modules, and industry-recognized certifications all designed to enable them to detect, thwart, and prevent cyber-attacks using AI/ML techniques.

“AI and machine learning are getting more powerful and useful everyday,” said Yoohwan Kim, a professor of computer science at UNLV. “By using them properly, we can develop better cybersecurity systems and protect our country more effectively from cyber attacks.”

Additionally, the program places a strong focus on direct mentorship, explaining that mentorship with dedicated research supervisors will enable independent research into pressing cybersecurity challenges. UNLV said that through this research students will refine their practical abilities by participating in cyber competitions, attending conferences, completing summer internships, and obtaining real-world experience through the Free Cyber Clinic, where they will work with local clients to reduce the risk of hacking, ransomware, phishing attacks, and other cybercrimes.

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