June 03, 2011

ISAT earns elite information assurance status

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The School of Information Systems and Applied Technologies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will receive elite national status later this month.

The program will earn designation as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education Information from the National Security Agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. SIUC will become among 145 institutions nationwide recognized as a Center of Academic Excellence (CAE) in Information Assurance Education.

“This is really an honor,” said Tom Imboden, an assistant professor in the School of Information Systems and Applied Technologies (ISAT). The designation will give students access to specific scholarship opportunities, in addition to grant and research opportunities for faculty.

“They recognize that we have invested the time … want our students to learn information assurance, and that we teach curriculum in line with some of the government’s training standards,” Imboden said. Students who complete the information assurance (IA) curriculum, including several who earned bachelor’s degrees in May, can then go to employers, particularly those involved in defense, the government, and military venues, and show they already have the requisite training standards.

The program’s goal is “to reduce vulnerability in our national information infrastructure by promoting higher education and research in IA and producing a growing number of professionals with IA experience in various disciplines,” according to the National Security Agency Central Security Service website.

The five-year designation, for 2011-2016, means both the NSA and DHS recognize the program’s information assurance curriculum and activities, Imboden said. Work to earn the designation focused not only on curriculum, but also lab resources for students, faculty involvement with extracurricular activities relating to information assurance, and outreach and educational opportunities for students within the community.

Schools can reapply after five years to retain the CAE designation.

Will Devenport, acting associate dean in the College of Applied Sciences and Arts, said it is “obvious to everyone how critical network security and information assurance is to all levels of our society.”

“There is an extremely high demand for well-trained information security professionals and the School of ISAT is in a perfect position to provide those graduates,” Devenport said.

“It has taken the vision, commitment and drive of the faculty to create a quality program that meets the standards of National Security Association and the Department of Homeland Security,” he said, noting special credit should go to Imboden and Belle Woodward, an associate professor in ISAT, for their efforts in a process that began more than five years ago.

“Designation as a National Center of Excellence is not only validation of the quality of the curriculum, it also opens doors of opportunity to scholarships, grants and employment to federal agencies for our students,” he said.

Ralph F. Tate, associate professor in Electronic Systems Technologies and ISAT interim director, said benefits also include collaboration and research opportunities with other CAE institutions.

“This brings a new level of prestige to the program, and it will be a draw for students and an important recruiting tool,” he said.

Students within the program boast a 100 percent placement rate upon graduation, said Tate. Information assurance jobs typically start with salaries of $60,000 or higher, he said.

“I’m proud of the faculty’s efforts to make this happen,” he said. “They have put in a lot of work and many people contributed to it.”

Imboden came to SIUC in 2008 from Aisin U.S.A. MGF., Inc., in Marion, where he was in charge of information technology. He credits Woodward with laying the program’s strong foundation.

Imboden and Woodward plan to attend ceremonies recognizing the program’s achievement during the 15th annual Conference of the Colloquium for Information Systems Security Education June 14 at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Fairborn, Ohio.

Woodward began to update the networking and security curriculum when she came to SIUC in 2004. Obtaining the CAE designation was a goal from the moment she arrived on campus, Woodward said. Based upon Imboden’s previous private industry experience in system administration and security, Woodward said she does not believe the ISAT program would have its CAE designation without Imboden’s “strategic hire.”

“It’s a designation you want to go after. If it’s out there in your discipline you want do that for your students,” she said.

The banking community and several industries initially focused on information assurance, but high-profile data breaches and cyber attacks during the past three years brought the issue to all sections of the private sector, Imboden said. Sony’s Online Entertainment service and Google are among recent cyber attack victims.

The security breaches are making people consider information assurance as a career choice, and corporate and company executives are considering security ramifications if they do not add information assurance personnel, Imboden said.

“When you take a look at where we are going as a nation with cyber wars -- it’s no longer building up the walls to protect, it’s now building up your virtual walls with cyber command,” Woodward said.

The ISAT program includes specializations in information systems technologies and electronic systems technologies. About 60 percent, or approximately 150 students in the two programs, are taking the information assurance curriculum track. There are about six faculty who teach curriculum in the networking system and security track.

Among the students who earned bachelor’s degrees last month in information systems technologies to receive their Committee on National Security Systems certificate are Ross Bennett, Streamwood; Greg Groves, Trilla; Paul Nehrkorn, Tamaroa; Donnie Owsley, LaHarpe; Ross Petty, Olney, and Gared Seats, Nashville.