Researchers receive $300,000 NSF grant to support computer security teaching and outreach

By Patrick J. Callahan

Two Computer Science faculty, along with four colleagues from local colleges, have received a two-year, $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support expanded teaching offerings in the field of computer security and the protection for networks, hardware and software. The grant will also allow the Five College consortium to expand its ability to serve graduates and undergraduates in the field, known as “information assurance.”

Assistant professors Mark Corner and Brian Levine share the grant with Nicholas Howe, of Smith College, Scott Kaplan, of Amherst College, Sami Rollins of Mount Holyoke College, and Richard Weiss of Hampshire College.

In addition, Levine and Corner have also received a one-year, $80,000 grant from the National Security Agency (NSA) to fund activities at the campus’s Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education (CAEIAE), which coordinates research and academic work in computer security. The grant includes money for a scholarship awarded to Amos Wetherbee, an undergraduate attending Commonwealth College.

The NSF grant bolsters the campus’s resources and status as a center of academic excellence in the field as designated by the NSA, according to Corner and Levine. That grant award also includes matching funding from the dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and the Department of Computer Science for two teaching assistant positions.

The NSF grant project is designed to broaden the of core of classes in the field, adding supportive material to related classes and a two-year speaker series of external experts from academia and industry. It will also help develop laboratory exercises, providing students with hands-on technical experience on team projects in a supervised lab. Another component supports outreach to women by producing and sharing educational materials between the Five Colleges to give female students greater access to computer security courses.

Levine, the director of CAEIAE, says, “We are grateful for this generous support
from the NSF, NSA, our dean and chair of our department.” He says the NSF grant will create a number of short-term benefits for the Five Colleges, but it is also designed to create several long-term effects that go beyond the duration of the funding. “By cultivating a culture of interest in security-related education and research, we hope to motivate more collaborative research proposals and faculty recruiting. Additionally, undergraduate and graduate students will leave the Five College system with the interests and skills necessary to improve commercial and research computer security systems,” he says.