Grant awarded to Rowan professor provides scholarships for cybersecurity students

Grant awarded to Rowan professor provides scholarships for cybersecurity students

Vahid Heydari, the director of the Center for Cybersecurity Education and Research, educates the next generation of cybersecurity professionals. A $622,694 grant he received is providing scholarships to students studying in the field.

Building a strong workforce of cybersecurity experts who can outsmart hackers is a key priority for Vahid Heydari, an assistant professor of computer science at Rowan University.

Now, thanks to a national grant he received, two students in Rowan’s accelerated computer science program moving toward careers in cybersecurity will receive full academic scholarships.

Heydari was recently awarded a $622,694 grant from the National Science Foundation, through the Scholarship for Service (SFS) Program at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Heydari is director of Rowan’s Center for Cybersecurity Education and Research. He received the grant for his work in enhancing the pipeline in the Greater Philadelphia area for students who want to pursue careers in cybersecurity.

Students who receive SFS scholarships must agree to work for the U.S. government after graduation in a cybersecurity related position for a period equal to the length of the scholarship.

The first two recipients of the scholarships are Richard Baird and Monica Mahon, both students in Rowan’s 4+1 computer-science program. The program provides students with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in five years. 

Baird said he is grateful for the assistance the scholarship will provide as he continues his education.

“It is my dream to work in the cybersecurity field, and the scholarship will give me the education and financial support to help me follow my dream,” he said. “I look forward to the opportunity of working for our government and to serve my country. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Mahon said she values the hands-on experience Rowan’s cybersecurity program has provided her.

“I am so excited to continue my cybersecurity education at Rowan University with the support of the National Science Foundation's Scholarship for Service,” she said. “This is such a unique opportunity offered to students to allow them access to a high quality education and real life work experience. I'm very grateful I was selected for this program and look forward to utilizing the skills I learned at Rowan in the government cybersecurity industry.”

Through the grant, two more Rowan students will be chosen to receive SFS scholarships next year.

The scholarships cover full tuition and fees, and provide recipients an annual stipend of $25,000 for the first year (at the undergraduate level) and $34,000 for the second year (at the graduate level). The scholarships also provide up to $6,000 per year reimbursement for travel and feels relating to the annual Scholarship for Service Job Fair, as well as other travel, books and professional certifications.

This next generation of professionals will meet the needs of the cybersecurity mission for federal, state, local, and tribal governments, Heydari said. The grant will also help Heydari further his mission by providing free cybersecurity summer camps and workshops for high school students and teachers.

“The plan is working with high schools in the Greater Philadelphia Area via cybersecurity workshops and training for teachers to increase the production of cybersecurity professionals,” he said. “The final goal is taking the leadership role in the development and expansion of cybersecurity education and research activities in our region.

“Since I joined Rowan two years ago, together with the curriculum committee, we focused on redesigning the cybersecurity program based on national standards,” said Heydari, who teaches in the College of Science & Mathematics. “I started the Center for Cybersecurity Education and Research, Cybersecurity Club, and Cybersecurity Research Lab. It’s not something that could have been done by one person. All the computer science faculty and the institutional leaders were outstanding."