Cybersecurity Is a Key Priority Across the College

Assistant professor Brian Yuan and student

It is estimated that by 2025, cybercrime will cost $10.5 trillion globally, increasing by 15 percent annually. And a recent study found that cybercriminals can potentially penetrate 93 percent of worldwide company networks.

The world has become a complex synergy of the physical world and the cyber world. Whatever your occupation, wherever you live, everyone is impacted by cyberattacks such as email phishing and cyber fraud. Crucial cyber-physical infrastructures are also in danger, from power grid, water, and utility pipeline systems to healthcare systems to industry control and manufacturing systems. 

“It’s a war with no discernible front,” says Jean Mayo, professor of computer science. “The increasing pervasiveness and connectivity of computing devices, and the software those devices run, are network-accessible across the world. Attacks can come from anywhere.”

“Not only is the number of jobs in cybersecurity increasing, as people learn more about the impact of cyberattacks, especially on ordinary people, there is a cadre of people who want to defend the US and its citizens,” adds Mayo.

With funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through two grant awards Yu Cai and his colleagues are working to educate the next generation of cybersecurity professionals.

“Cybersecurity is a fast-growing trend in higher education,” says Yu Cai, professor of cybersecurity in the Department of Applied Computing. “Michigan Tech has developed a national and international reputation in cybersecurity education, research, and outreach. We are thrilled to be part of the solution to the nation’s cybersecurity workforce challenge.”


A five-year, $3.3 million project funded by the NSF in 2021, CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service (SFS) aims to train the next generation of cybersecurity professionals. The scholarship provides up to three years of full support for 20 undergraduate and graduate students studying cybersecurity at Michigan Tech. The program currently supports 10 students.

“The US is facing a significant shortage of well-trained and well-prepared cybersecurity professionals,” says Cai. “This new scholarship will continue to develop Michigan Tech’s national and international reputation as a leader and innovator in cybersecurity education, research, and outreach activities.”

The cross-disciplinary SFS program is conducted by multiple departments and faculty across campus and collaborates with the Pavlis Honors College at Michigan Tech, mentoring, advising, and engaging SFS scholars with a blend of faculty mentoring, peer mentoring, and customized honors pathways.

Undergraduate cybersecurity major and SFS scholarship recipient Thad Sander says, “This opportunity means a lot. It gives me the chance to accelerate my career readiness. It has also been a large motivational factor to excel and put myself forward for more opportunities so I can stand out as an applicant for jobs within the federal government.”

Following graduation, SFS recipients agree to work in a cybersecurity-related job for federal, state, local, or tribal government for a period equal to the length of the scholarship, among other requirements. The first graduate of the Michigan Tech SFS program is expected in spring 2023.

GenCyber Camps

Before they get to college, K-12 students need to be aware of the many cybersecurity career options. To that end, the National Science Foundation/National Security Agency-funded GenCyber program at Michigan Tech is working to build interest and enthusiasm in cybersecurity careers.

Part of a nationwide program, GenCyber camps seek to ignite and sustain cybersecurity interest among youth in order to build a competent, diverse, and adaptable cybersecurity workforce pipeline. The camps are open to student and teacher participants at no cost. 

More than 300 students and teachers have completed the GenCyber camps at Michigan Tech. “We are very lucky to have hosted the GenCyber camps almost every year since 2019,” says Cai. 

“As we become more and more reliant on cyber-based technology in our daily lives, ensuring that enough young people are inspired to pursue cybersecurity careers is critical to the future of our country’s national and economic security,” says Cai. “It’s better if youth are exposed to cybersecurity careers before college.”

The GenCyber classes focus on hands-on learning, engaging students in games, labs, and exercises. Topics include cyber hygiene and fundamental security knowledge, including email phishing, password management, cyber ethics, and more. Campers also learn about computer hardware and programming using Raspberry Pi mini computers.

Teachers also develop cybersecurity lesson plans. “The teacher camp is critical from a cost-benefit perspective. It makes more sense to train one teacher who can impact many students,” says Cai.

Laurel Givens, a teacher at Houghton Elementary, completed the camp in 2019. As a second grade teacher with an interest in technology, but not a lot of experience, before the camp she knew next to nothing about cybersecurity.

“My students have technology in their hands from the time they can hold things!” Givens says. “They’re really good at figuring out new software and websites, but they need instruction on how to keep themselves safe with digital tools.”

“Before we use technology in the classroom in the fall, I teach lessons on internet safety and netiquette,” Givens says. “We review these concepts throughout the year. One of my lessons is one I helped prepare during my week at the GenCyber teacher camp.”

Another great part of the camp, Givens says, was spending time with like-minded teachers and learning what MTU has to offer students who are interested in computer science.

Jarrett Davidson, who teaches grades 6-12 in Baraga, Michigan, completed the teacher camp in 2021. “I have done some cybersecurity in my classes, but this really helped jump-start more computer science conversations and lessons,” he says.

“It was truly an awesome experience,” says Davidson. “No matter what your skill level and cybersecurity familiarity, you will gain so much to take away from the camp, you’ll have new resources, and you’ll meet teachers that want to help you succeed.”