Talbert named interim director of Tennessee Tech’s CEROC

CEROC Interim Director Doug Talbert, second from right, is joined by staff members, from left, Jeremy Potts, Cyber Range engineer; Eric Brown, assistant director; and, at right, Megan Cooper, office and event manager. The team also includes Lana Richardson, project manager, and Travis Lee, Cyber Range engineer.

COOKEVILLE – Doug Talbert, Ph.D., has been named interim director of Tennessee Tech University’s Cybersecurity Education, Research and Outreach Center.

Talbert, who joined the department of computer science at Tech in 2002 and serves as its associate chair, has several goals going into the fall semester following the departure of CEROC’s founding director, Ambareen Siraj, Ph.D., who moved on to a new role at the National Science Foundation in June.

“There are so many things in academia that when the person behind it leaves, it dies,” Talbert said. “Dr. Siraj has done a great job putting the pieces in place to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Among Talbert’s top priorities is supporting CEROC staff and associated faculty members as they strive to maintain a reputation of excellence in cybersecurity education, research and outreach on the Tennessee Tech campus and beyond.

“Clearly, this is going to be a team effort going forward,” Talbert said. “We’ve got really good people on our staff; we’ve got good faculty. I see my role as, ‘How do I help them do their job?’ and then, ‘How do I work with them to figure out how CEROC works in a post-Ambareen world?’ She was so good at all this stuff and so active, and her hand was in so many things.”

The CEROC team includes Eric Brown, assistant director, who guides strategic planning for cybersecurity outreach and workforce development; Lana Richardson, project manager, who facilitates grant support and reporting; Megan Cooper, office and event manager, who handles administrative and financial functions; and Travis Lee and Jeremy Potts, Cyber Range engineers, who provide technology support for classroom, outreach and research activities.

In addition to supporting staff members, Talbert is exploring new opportunities for CEROC – one of which is starting a high school cybersecurity dual enrollment program.

“That’s probably the biggest new activity on CEROC’s plate right now,” he said. “We have been given additional money by the state this year to develop a dual enrollment curriculum program for high schools. The hope is that it will be in Putnam and White counties in the fall; then we’d like to roll it out more across the state the next year.”

CEROC is also looking to hire an associate director of research to boost that aspect of its mission.

“Not that we haven’t already been successful in research, but, through the introduction of this new associate director, we can continue to improve,” Talbert said.

On the education side, CEROC will continue to collaborate with the department of computer science to enhance its information assurance and cybersecurity undergraduate concentration as well as cybersecurity focus areas at the master’s and doctorate levels.

“We will be working with the faculty on opportunities to improve cyber education, so we’re going to be looking at some curriculum issues over the summer,” Talbert said, adding that the center and department often work together on numerous tasks such as maintaining the university’s National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education designation.

“The cyber concentration is obviously a departmental responsibility, but the CAE-CD designation, which is related to the curriculum, is managed by the center. So, a lot of activities go hand in hand. I’m hoping my dual role as interim director and associate chair helps us figure out how that’s going to work over time.”

CEROC will remain focused on community outreach, including its GenCyber summer camp, which introduces Tennessee high school students to cybersecurity, and Cyber Career Exploration and Training for Transitioning Veterans, which provides cybersecurity training for veterans. 

Additionally, the center will look at services it already provides within the campus community – things like faculty workshops, research initiatives and grant support – and seek opportunities to improve.

“One big service we provide is the Cyber Range,” Talbert said. “That’s an IT infrastructure that allows hands-on cyber experiences for students that would otherwise be unsafe on an open network on campus.”

Outside of campus, CEROC will strive to remain a resource for business, academic and government institutions across the state.

Talbert emphasized that while CEROC’s leadership has changed, its goals remain the same. Those include providing quality cybersecurity education, supplying trained students for the cybersecurity workforce, researching trending areas of cybersecurity, and increasing public awareness of information assurance and cybersecurity.

Some recent CEROC accomplishments are as follows:

  • Re-designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence-Cybersecurity Cyber Defense Education center through 2028.
  • Awarded a second five-year CyberCorps Scholarship for Service grant from the National Science Foundation exceeding $4.3 million. (The first, awarded in 2016, was completed with extensions totaling $5.4 million. These grants continue to be the largest single awards in the university’s history. CEROC’s SFS program is the largest in Tennessee and among the top five in the nation.)
  • Completed a Cyber Range expansion that doubled its capacity.
  • Provided logistical and technical support for 25 grant proposals that resulted in 14 awards totaling $2.7 million.
  • Assembled nationally ranked student cyber competition teams, including a Collegiate Penetration Testing Competition team that placed third globally.

To learn more about CEROC, visit www.tntech.edu/ceroc or call 931-372-3519.

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