Photo by Ian Feldmann.
The National Security Agency has recently listed UMBC as the first school under their new featured school series. For over twenty years, UMBC and the NSA have been working together to address society’s security needs, making this announcement the latest development in a longstanding partnership.
The spotlight is a testament to UMBC’s role in furthering the frontier for cyber security and addressing the challenges in those areas. According to UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III, “We are helping to address the need for well-trained cyber professionals by creating a network of talented people to protect the state, nation and world.”
However, this goal is not the work of UMBC alone; the NSA has offered many opportunities to students, alumni and professors at UMBC. They, along with the Department of Homeland Security, declared UMBC to be a National Center for Academic Excellence. This means that UMBC is recognized as a university boasting excellent research and teaching with regards to cyber security.
The NSA also plays an intimate role in the lives of the students of UMBC in many different ways. They provide funding for the Meyerhoff scholars program and offer the scholars opportunities to discuss the missions and careers at the NSA. For all students, there are visiting professors from the NSA who teach classes. One example of this is the Introduction to Software Reverse Engineering. The class, offered every spring, has been taught by an NSA employee since 2015.
UMBC and the NSA also collaborate in research projects, furthering malware analysis and data analytics. Together, the pair has developed tools used to help educate other graduate students nationwide. Specifically, over 14,000 square feet of space on the campus is dedicated to NSA research space.
The NSA has a large student base that comes from UMBC. Over two hundred students were hired from UMBC over the past two years, while over 1,100 employees at the NSA have degrees from UMBC. Furthermore, many interns who work for NSA from UMBC move on to full time employment
One of such graduates is Rita Doerr, an instructor at NSA’s National Cryptologic School. She was one of the first enrolled in UMBC’s PhD program for computer science. Simultaneously, she was accepted into a program at the NSA to learn advanced mathematics. Rather than choosing between them, she went for both.
Doerr thinks highly of employment at the NSA, saying, “There’s always been something to keep me interested, pique my curiosity and keep me technically challenged.” The theme of tackling novel, insightful challenges is one that persists throughout the UMBC and NSA relationship.
On UMBC’s side, professor Charles Nicholas of the Computer Science and Electrical Engineering department has spent two of his sabbaticals working on various research projects for the NSA. This research, he said, has played a large part in the path of his career and enabled him to work on problems that will help our country. He has also mentored students going through the NSA’s program, and believes that the intelligence community has a wealth of opportunities available for students.