Cybersecurity education and research in the Pacific Northwest is receiving a $2.5 million infusion thanks to a partnership between global power systems protection leader Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) and the University of Idaho College of Engineering.
The five-year partnership will expand U of I’s cybersecurity education and research through direct program support and contracted research projects focused on developing inherently cyber-secure industrial control systems.
“Creating solutions that are cyber-secure is part of our daily mission,” said SEL Chief Executive Officer Dave Whitehead. “As the number of cyberattacks and the sophistication of our adversaries continues to grow, so does the need to create a robust pipeline of highly skilled security professionals. This partnership will help achieve this while creating great career and research opportunities for students.”
According to the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, unfilled cybersecurity jobs are expected to reach 1.8 million by 2022.
In 1999, U of I was named one of the National Security Agency’s first seven National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense, a designation led by the Center for Secure and Dependable Systems, U of I’s cybersecurity research center.
The U of I College of Engineering is preparing to launch the first cybersecurity bachelor’s degree program in Idaho and one of the few programs in the nation. With recent approval from the Idaho State Board of Education, an undergraduate degree will be available to current U of I students in fall 2020 and new students will be accepted in fall 2021. Master’s and doctorate programs will follow.
The SEL and U of I cybersecurity partnership is a continuation of more than three decades of higher education support. Since 1989, SEL has contributed more than $3 million to projects and programs across U of I, with significant gifts toward research and STEM education.
“Our students are fortunate that we have such a great relationship with a world leader in power systems protection,” said Larry Stauffer, dean of the U of I College of Engineering. “SEL continues to create new opportunities for our students to use real equipment, learn from simulated cyberattack scenarios and build the cybersecurity skills needed to protect our critical infrastructure.”
U of I students have access to state of-the-art labs for cybersecurity and power systems protection research thanks to SEL donations of protective relays, managed network switches and other equipment. The U of I contracted with SEL’s engineering services toward part of the design, equipment purchase and configuration of a distributed testbed to develop cyberattack response procedures, connecting research infrastructure across U of I campuses in Moscow, Idaho Falls and Coeur d’Alene.
In 2015, U of I appointed Distinguished Professor Brian Johnson as SEL’s first endowed chair in power engineering. Internationally recognized in his field, Johnson has been the major professor of more than 200 U of I graduate students in electrical engineering and computer engineering. He has co-authored more than 210 publications and has served as an investigator on more than $12.9 million in external research funding.
More than 300 U of I alumni are employed at SEL, along with 50 student interns. About 20 SEL employees also attend U of I classes through the company’s tuition assistance program.
For the second year, SEL is the presenting sponsor of the U of I College of Engineering’s Engineering Design EXPO. EXPO is the longest-running student engineering and technological innovation showcase in the Pacific Northwest. The event showcases senior projects from the college’s senior capstone design program, recognized by the National Academy of Engineering as one of the top seven programs for infusing real-world experiences into engineering education.