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Donna McCracken

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UIS among partnership receiving $3 million grant to establish regional IT security center

January 12, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - The University of Illinois at Springfield is among seven institutions that have received a four-year, $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to establish the Regional Center for Systems Security and Information Assurance, the first comprehensive information technology security center in the Midwest. The center will be based at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Height, Illinois.

Other partner institutions are Rock Valley Community College (Rockford, Illinois); Inver Hills Community College (Grove Heights, Minnesota); Lakeland Community College (Kirkland, Ohio); Madison Area Technical College (Madison, Wisconsin); and Washtenaw Community College (Ann Arbor, Michigan).

Ted Mims, professor and chair of UIS' Computer Science Department, is among those instrumental in developing the project and served as one of the principal investigators.

With damage from computer viruses costing an estimated $12.3 billion in a single year and 85 percent of respondents to a recent corporate survey reporting security breaches (64 percent sustained financial losses), cybercrime has become a serious threat. Professionals with specialized skills in information security are in high demand not only by business, industry, government, and law enforcement but also in the healthcare and insurance industries, where new legislation is creating additional needs for highly trained individuals who can safeguard privacy.

The new center will respond to this need in a number of ways, primarily by offering degree and certificate programs designed to develop a skilled IT workforce. Training will be available for both faculty and students at community colleges and universities throughout the region, with special outreach efforts made to populations traditionally underrepresented in IT professions. Community workshops will address various IT security issues. Student internships and faculty "externships" will be developed. Members will also partner with private industry, government agencies, and other higher educational institutions to establish an advisory committee to guide the development of a curriculum that will meet industry needs.

Over the four years of the grant, UIS expects to receive approximately $134,000 in NSF funding to support activities such as establishing curriculum and equipping labs. In turn, the campus anticipates contributing about $33,000 in matching funds and will seek donations from the private sector to underwrite these costs.

Mims said that UIS was selected to participate in the project in part because of its prior success as a Cisco Regional Networking Academy. Cisco academies are designed to train those teachers who will themselves train students, ultimately producing qualified professionals in network administration and management.

"We are already experienced in training teachers in networking and other IT essentials," he explained. "We've trained about 30 instructors in the past four years." Mims added that UIS is currently developing a graduate certificate program for Cisco instructors.

At UIS, Mims has worked to expand the computer science curriculum and introduce developing technologies. His teaching focuses on networks, systems security, and information assurance. He holds the Ph.D. in computer science from North Texas State University as well as many professional certifications. He has previously received several grant and stipend awards from NSF and has worked with Argonne National Laboratory, a research arm of the U.S. Department of Energy.