Tennessee Tech’s growing cybersecurity program keeps pace with industry needs

COOKEVILLE – At the helm of Tennessee Tech’s Cybersecurity Education, Research and Outreach Center, Ambareen Siraj, CEROC director and professor of computer science, is inspiring the next generation of cybersecurity professionals.

“For us, especially students who work in CEROC, Dr. Siraj is like our mother of cybersecurity,” said graduate student Dee Zhao. “I mean, we learn so much from her. During my undergraduate years, I took two courses with her and learned so much about cybersecurity. And even now, every single day, I just learn so much from her.”

Siraj teaches cybersecurity courses and in 2016 she helped lead the establishment of a cybersecurity concentration within the university’s computer science program.

“Over the last few years, enrollment has quadrupled in that concentration,” Siraj said. “Currently at Tech, we offer bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. programs in cybersecurity for computer science students.”

Siraj has been awarded numerous National Science Foundation grants involving cybersecurity and is the founder of the national Women in Cybersecurity conference, an effort to recruit, retain and advance women in the cybersecurity industry.

“I knew that this was going to be bigger and bigger; it’s not going to go away because cyber is tied with technology, and since technology is not going to go away, cybersecurity is not going to go away,” Siraj said. “As our modern day lives are more integrated in technology, the need for cyber is only going to increase.”

At CEROC, student find opportunities and resources for growth that allow them to become professionals in the growing field of cybersecurity.

“We have a lot of research opportunities that students can work on, basically get some more real-life experience while they’re studying at Tech,” Zhao said. “The best part is we get to work with other students, so all students are together and we’re always learning from each other.”

With continued resources dedicated to the area, Siraj sees an active future for CEROC.

“In short term, we hope that we’ll be able to work with the State of Tennessee to offer more cybersecurity education opportunities to statewide high school students in research,” Siraj said. “Our new faculty just joined us, and in couple of years, I can see that they will have very established research in cyber-physical systems, smart farming, smart grid and manufacturing.” 

In May, CEROC hosted the National Science Foundation’s Gen-Cyber camp on Tech’s campus in cooperation with the Putnam County School System.

“I’m sure we will do more with K-12 schools and teachers and also guidance counselors,” Siraj said.

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