Hume Center students selected for Department of Defense Cyber Scholarship Program
Editor's note: Given the sensitive nature of the work these students will do as part of this program, their names have been altered to feature first and last initial only.
Ever since high school, Tanvi A. knew she wanted to serve the U.S. government.
“I did Air Force Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) all four years in high school since national security was something that I was passionate about,” said Tanvi, a junior secure computing major and integrated security minor. “I decided to pursue a secure computing degree at Virginia Tech because I am fascinated by the new technologies and advancements in the defense sector. When I heard about the Department of Defense Cyber Scholarship Program, I decided to give it a try since I wanted to be a part of a program that focused on both national defense and technology.”
The Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security and Technology, part of the Virginia Tech National Security Institute, was recently awarded its third Department of Defense Cyber Scholarship Program (DoD CySP) grant that will fund approximately $742,000 in scholarships for 10 students and continue the development of a new cyber range with a focus on experiential learning and research.
In April 2021, Tanvi and three other new students were awarded scholarships as part of the DoD CySP, covering all their tuition and living expenses. Six additional students were also selected to complete another year in the program.
The new students accepted into Department of Defense Cyber Scholarship Program as of the 2021-22 academic year are:
- Tanvi A.
- Evan A.
- Christopher P.
- Rose S.
The students returning to the Department of Defense Cyber Scholarship Program are:
- Matthew E.
- Alicia H.
- Alisa K.
- Luke M.
- Sarah O.
- Siraj S.
The goal of the Department of Defense Cyber Scholarship Program is to support the recruitment of new cyber talent and the retention of current highly skilled professionals within the DoD cyber workforce, as well as to enhance the pipeline for the development of cyber personnel by providing grants to institutions of higher education, such as Virginia Tech.
Selected students receive scholarships that cover their tuition, fees, books, and a laptop. Additionally, a $25,000 stipend is granted to undergraduates per year, and a $30,000 stipend is granted to graduate students per year.
Luke, a junior computer engineering major, was accepted into the program for the second time.
“The scholarship has opened up so many doors for me and has simultaneously taken the burden of student debt and financial instability away,” said Luke. “I will never be able to say just how appreciative I am of the scholarship and all those who have helped me along the way.”
The DoD Cyber Scholarship Program students also earn a guaranteed summer internship with a DoD agency for every year they are in the program.
Siraj S., a sophomore energy and power electronic systems major, has completed one summer with the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Philadelphia and plans to return this summer.
“One of the most valuable lessons I learned during my internship was the necessity to have a strong command in Linux operating environments and virtual machines as their capabilities help streamline many projects, products, and programs,” said the returning student.
Tiasha Khan, co-principal investigator and program manager for the DoD CySP, said the students are made aware of a plethora of relevant cybersecurity and national security experiences and events at Virginia Tech throughout the program. “The National Security Education Program’s effectiveness hinges on its ability to engage and educate a diverse group of students and focus them on the national security mission, including cybersecurity challenges,” she said.
The program is not only aimed at impacting the students’ time at Virginia Tech, but it is also structured to guide the students professional careers after they graduate. The DoD Cyber Scholarship Program is a scholarship for service initiative where students will obtain a full-time position with the DoD upon graduation, and are required to work for the agency for one year for every year of scholarship they have received.
“The guaranteed full-time position has allowed me to get closer to my dreams of being an engineer for the United States government. My future is a lot clearer now that I have a plan to follow up until graduation,” Tanvi said.
Khan, who is also the program manager for the Hume Center’s Raytheon Fellowship Program, said acceptance into this program is a great feat because of its competitiveness. “We are always excited to hear how many students were selected every year, and to hear that we have 10 students in the program this year is a reflection of how successful the cyber programs at Virginia Tech are and how impressive these 10 students are,” Khan said.
During their enrollment in the program, the students attend the National Security Institute and Hume Center’s Annual National Security Colloquium in the spring semester and maintain a required 3.2 grade point average for undergraduate students and 3.5 for graduate students.
Khan and Hill work alongside DoD CySP co-principal investigators Alan Michaels, director of the National Security Institute’s Spectrum Dominance Division, and Laura Freeman, director of the National Security Institute’s Intelligent Systems Division, to recruit students for the scholarship, engage the students in cybersecurity research within the center, and lead the development of the new cyber range.
Virginia Tech alumni who are graduates of the program have subsequently worked for several organizations across the DoD and Intelligence Community, including Naval Sea Systems Command (Red Team), Space and Naval Warfare Systems, U.S. Air Force Cyber Hunt, and select intelligence agencies.
Jonathan L. ‘20 learned about the DoD Cyber Scholarship Program during his junior year at Virginia Tech while he was an ICCAE associate and Hume Scholar at the Hume Center. He initially received his scholarship and entrance into the program in 2019.
“Aside from the financial benefits, receiving the DoD Cyber Scholarship took a different kind of weight off my shoulders,” Jonathan said. “I noticed that I had more time to enjoy what was left of my time as an undergraduate without any sort of looming pre-graduation job hunt stress.”
In March 2021, he began working full-time for a U.S. government agency. His current rotation is with a research directorate, where he is part of the Computer Science Development Program.
Jonathan said he would “absolutely” recommend undergraduate students to apply to the program. Jonathan said, “With most things, you never know unless you try. In my opinion, the benefits you get in this program far outweigh the responsibilities you have as a student in the program. It also takes the guesswork and struggle out of finding a job after college.”
Cyber education and research ranges
In addition to the student scholarship portion of the grant from the DoD, the $742,000 in funding will be utilized for the development of the Cyber Education and Research Ranges, which will serve as an Integrated Security Simulation Platform, with a focus on experiential learning and research for students and faculty from across Virginia Tech.
The development of an Integrated Security Simulation Platform will leverage the current capabilities at Virginia Tech, including the Virginia Cyber Range, and partnerships with the director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E), the Army Cyber Institute (ACI) at West Point, the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command and Peraton.
Propelling passion and interest
Both Tanvi and Luke said being part of the DoD CySP during their undergraduate years has revolutionized their experience as a student in their respective majors.
“The scholarship award gave me a boost just when I needed it to get out of a rut in my passion for learning,” Luke said. “It kickstarted a new burst of excitement that I had to learn new things and to get engrossed in national security, cyber, and engineering topics that I have focused on.”
Tanvi said the program propelled her passion for computing and security.
“Receiving the scholarship motivates me to strive harder in my classes, build a larger network of individuals, and shape my character so that I can go into the workforce as the best version of myself,” said Tanvi.
The Hume Center hopes to continue growing the enrollment of students in the program in years to come, and in turn, supporting the main mission of the Hume Center: to cultivate the next generation of national security leaders.
"The DoD CySP Program has been truly impactful to both the students, who are receiving a full scholarship to finish their degrees in programs with a cybersecurity focus, while also supporting key DoD components across the United States in their cybersecurity mission,” said Ehren Hill, principal investigator for the Scholarship Program and associate director for education and outreach at the Hume Center.
Tanvi said, “I have always been inspired by the military and national security, so being involved in a small fraction of the defense sector is such an honor. I cannot wait to see how I can use my degree and how I can embrace Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) after I graduate.”
Students interested in applying for the DoD Cyber Scholarship Program for 2022 can learn more and sign up to be sent the application on the webpage.