New cybersecurity program will help prepare students in rural Alabama for careers in the field


The Center for Cybersecurity Research and Education (CCRE) at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) is pleased to announce a new initiative to introduce high school students in rural Alabama to cybersecurity.

The Expanding Cybersecurity Innovative Incubator to Extended Demographics (ExCIITED) program is intended to give youths who have little to no exposure to the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields the opportunity to gain insight into cybersecurity, leaving them more prepared for the demands of a cybersecurity-related degree program.

"This program is designed to spark the students’ interest in cybersecurity," says Sharon Johnson, a principal research scientist with the CCRE and the coordinator of the ExCIITED program. "A career in cybersecurity means high-paying, stable employment for the next 25 or 30 years supporting multiple sectors such as defense, financial, and health care."

The program is funded by a National Security Agency grant. At present, 20 students – many from underserved rural Alabama high schools – have been selected for the program and are working with CCRE researchers to complete weekly cybersecurity challenges. This summer, they will enroll in "ENG 101: Introduction to Computing for Engineers" at UAH, which familiarizes students with the fundamental principles of programming for solving engineering problems and programming languages like Python and MATLAB, a multi-paradigm numerical computing environment commonly used in engineering and math disciplines. The course is required for all undergraduate programs in UAH’s College of Engineering, including the Bachelor of Science in cybersecurity, which will begin enrolling students this fall pending approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Ultimately, five of the original 20 ExCIITED students will go on to join the CCRE’s Cyber Force Incubator (CFI), a collection of contract and grant-funded projects that provide internships for cybersecurity students. Current projects include performing compromise, detection, and hardening exercises on a simulated water and gas infrastructure, a global positioning system, an Amazon Echo, a Fitbit, a pacemaker, and a military robot. The students will also begin both certification training and the security clearance process, and upon successful completion of the program, they will be matched with an employer.

"The demand for cybersecurity professionals in Huntsville and the whole United States is insatiable," says Dr. Tommy Morris, director of the CCRE. "ExCIITED is helping draw students who are not otherwise exposed to cybersecurity in high school into our cybersecurity degree programs. We hope all ExCIITED students continue their academic careers at UAH by earning their bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity."



Sharon Johnson

Dr. Tommy Morris