LATROBE, PA – The National Security Agency (NSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have named Saint Vincent College a Center of Academic Excellence (CAE) in Cyber Defense Education for its bachelor of science program in cybersecurity.
The jointly sponsored award program aims to reduce vulnerability in our national information infrastructure by promoting higher education and research in cyber defense and producing a growing number of professionals with cyber defense expertise in various disciplines. The program takes into account an institution’s academic program of study, including curriculum, faculty profiles and qualifications and maturity of the program.
“We are honored to receive this prestigious designation,” said Dr. Stephen Jodis, dean of Saint Vincent College’s Herbert W. Boyer School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Computing. “This recognition places us within a select group of colleges and universities across the country that offer cybersecurity programs that have this certification from the NSA. It also demonstrates our commitment to continue building high-quality programs in the sciences and in our Department of Computing and Information Systems.”
Saint Vincent College is one of only 10 four-year institutions in the state of Pennsylvania to hold the honor of being a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education and will maintain the distinction through the 2024-25 academic year.
“This prestigious designation for our cybersecurity program is great news for our region, for Saint Vincent College, for the Computing and Information Systems Department and, most importantly, for our current and future students,” said Dr. William Birmingham, chair of the Saint Vincent College Computing and Information Systems Department.
For its work in achieving the distinction, Birmingham lauded the SVC faculty and credited Dr. Anthony Serapiglia, associate professor and director of the SVC Center for Cybersecurity Studies, for spearheading the efforts.
“This was made possible by the leadership of Dr. Serapiglia,” said Birmingham, “who developed the excellent curriculum and facilities required by the designation. Cybersecurity touches on all aspects of government, commerce, manufacturing and personal life. Through our department’s cybersecurity degree program, our students will gain valuable and sought-after knowledge and skills to help ensure a more secure world.”
“This acknowledgement of our program is very important to all of us in the Computing and Information Systems Department here at Saint Vincent,” stated Serapiglia. “Over the past decade, we have put together our cybersecurity program thoughtfully, focusing on areas we knew would be of value to our students and the community. This is validation that we have made the right choices along the way in developing our courses and curriculum.”
The designation was awarded following a thorough evaluation by the NSA, DHS and Central Security Services. Among the required benchmarks were the program’s curriculum, as well as community outreach, collaboration with other programs, faculty research and student activities and competitions.
“This was a very rigorous process,” stated Jodis, “and this achievement is a testament to the hard work and perseverance of our faculty.”
“After a self-evaluation of our program and institution,” said Serapiglia, “we realized that we had a very strong existing program that only needed a few additions to meet the award’s requirements. Over the past three years, we’ve been able to strengthen the program and integrate those last couple of pieces to be able to enter the application process.”
Serapiglia explained that the program’s rigorous curriculum was thoroughly vetted, being evaluated on 22 total knowledge units containing specific topic items and outcomes. Eight of the items are the core fundamental areas of cybersecurity, while the other 14 are optional areas that highlighted SVC’s cybersecurity program’s strengths and differentiated it from others, including forensics, networking, ethics and cryptography.
“In the end,” he said, “there were 272 topics and 74 outcomes that we had to prove are included within our program. We cover that through a subset of 11 courses that are required as part of the cybersecurity degree.”
Among the factors that the evaluation took into account beyond the curriculum were how Saint Vincent College as a whole embraces the ideals and everyday awareness of cybersecurity issues.
“We had to engage administration, other departments and student groups to show that this exists outside of our classroom and our department,” Serapiglia said. “Everyone involved stepped up and helped out. It is amazing when you reach out and start to look around campus to see how many other areas are already addressing various aspects of cybersecurity, whether they know it or not. Areas such as social media, e-commerce and supply chain, online bullying, privacy and regulatory compliance all have aspects that address cybersecurity.”
Serapiglia also lauded the SVC cybersecurity students for their proactive approach in raising awareness and educating the community on the importance of cybersecurity. The SVC Cybersecurity Club has offered presentations at Latrobe’s Adams Memorial Library and for the Franklin Regional School District, while it has also taken part in competitions against students from other institutions, including the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition this past spring.
“These types of student activities are essential to maintaining both the technical area and the interpersonal skills necessary to interact with multiple audiences in the workplace,” he said. “They proved to be an invaluable portion of our application and an integral part of our program.”
Along with gaining recognition on the national scale, Serapiglia noted that a number of benefits come with being named a Center for Academic Excellence, for both students and faculty.
“For our students,” he explained, “it immediately provides access to a pipeline of government positions and other job opportunities. There are CAE-exclusive job fairs and possibilities for scholarships. The notation they will have on their transcript and their résumés will help their applications stand out in any venue.
“For our faculty,” he continued, “there is a vibrant research community to collaborate with and learn from. The CAE program sponsors regional resource centers for workshops, training and consultation. As we continue to grow and expand, we are always looking to forge partnerships with industry and outside organizations. Having this designation is a major calling card that announces the quality and standing of our program.”
With a growing focus on cybersecurity throughout the world, the number of colleges offering cybersecurity programs continues to increase. Serapiglia said that at Saint Vincent, however, cybersecurity has been incorporated into the CIS program for decades, which is another factor that has enabled SVC to stand out.
“This has given us experience in developing and evolving a mature program,” he said. “We’ve been able to take a very strong computer science foundation and expand it to focus and apply on areas of demand and need for today in cybersecurity. We provide a lot of hands-on experience in our labs that really lets students experience what tasks are actually like, rather than simulated virtual exercises. This is one of the aspects that allows our students to enter the workforce ready to hit the ground running, already over any fear factor of touching things for the first time.”
Serapiglia also feels that the Catholic, Benedictine, liberal arts foundation that students receive during their Saint Vincent College careers is invaluable.
“The core curriculum demands that students hone their critical thinking, writing and presentation skills,” he said. “Taking courses in philosophy and theology provides reasoning and moral and ethical guidance. Combining these with the technical skills from our department makes for a noticeable difference that we hear about all the time from employers who have hired our graduates or sponsored internships. A Saint Vincent College cybersecurity degree holder is absolutely like no other cybersecurity graduate anywhere else. They really stand out.
Having now achieved a level of national prominence, Serapiglia is excited to see what the future holds for SVC’s cybersecurity program and looks forward to helping it continue to grow.
“Being included on the national list of recognized Centers of Academic Excellence allows anyone in the country – and the world – to see our program,” he said. “It introduces us to a much wider audience and affirms our standing on an exclusive stage. It may sound cliché, but receiving this designation is not the finish line. It’s a launching pad from which we are going to continue to grow this program. We’ve been able to put in place a program that is graduating students who contribute immediately and greatly in an area of much need and importance today.
We want to take this program and continue to push it forward. This opens the door to many opportunities and we are very excited about the future.”
PHOTO: Dr. Anthony Serapiglia presides over a class in the Sis and Herman Dupré Science Pavilion
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