Julie Gonzalez was in high school when she realized that her interest in computer
science and desire to help people were perfect for a career in cybersecurity.
Gonzalez graduated in early May with a degree in cybersecurity from the USF College
of Engineering Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) department. A few weeks later,
she began working as an identity and access management analyst with Raymond James
in St. Petersburg.
Like other recent USF cybersecurity grads, Gonzalez quickly found a good job in a
field where Florida is investing heavily to meet soaring demand for highly qualified
Gov. Ron DeSantis last month signed a budget that includes a $20.5 million increase in funding from the legislature to Cyber Florida at USF. Included in that is $10 million in
recurring funds for USF to hire new faculty and expand programs to help produce more cyber-workforce-ready graduates each year. The College of Engineering
separately received $1.39 million from Cyber Florida to expand and enhance the workforce
in the Tampa Bay region.
The investments address an enormous need in an industry the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
predicts will grow by 31 percent over the next few years, with average median wages
around $104,000 annually. The shortage of cybersecurity professionals is estimated
to be around 2.7 million globally and about 22,000 in Florida.
“It’s exciting to know you can pivot in almost any direction and find a good job,”
said senior William Silvert, a CSE cybersecurity student who expects to graduate in
USF prepares cybersecurity graduates with classroom simulations and experiential learning
opportunities and builds feedback from industry partners into its programs. Faculty
who have worked in the cybersecurity field stage exercises such as malware attacks
in which students use real-world tools to find solutions.
Gonzalez completed internships with Norwegian Cruise Lines, Northrop Grumman and Guidepoint
Security and worked with faculty with expertise in math, business and industrial organizational
psychology. “The interdisciplinary aspect of the program is really valuable and keeps
it interesting,” she said.
Diverse program options and partnerships
USF offers undergraduate cybersecurity degrees in the College of Engineering and the
Muma College of Business.
Engineering’s program launched in 2018 and now includes more than 550 students, says
program director Sriram Chellappan, a professor of computer science and engineering.
Students benefit from the Computing Partners Program, which includes industry partners such as Amazon Pay, CAE, OPSWAT, Johnson & Johnson,
JPMorgan Chase & Co, Nielsen and Raymond James.
Muma’s Information Assurance and Cybersecurity Management (IACM) program launched
last fall under the direction of professor of information systems Giti Javidi. It
provides flexibility for working students and military veterans transitioning to civilian
life. A partnership with Sylint — a Sarasota-based cybersecurity and digital data forensics firm — provides internships,
mentoring, training and curriculum development opportunities.
Along with technical training, the IACM program emphasizes communication and collaboration
in a team setting.
“The thinking behind this is to fill the gap between pure technology and cybersecurity
business functions,” Javidi said. “Graduates are equipped with the knowledge and skills
to serve on the front line of support for governments and business organizations.”
Chellappan agrees that incorporating industry feedback is vital to meeting workforce
“We want to make sure students have the soft skills they will need on the job,” Chellappan
said. “There is an emphasis on learning how to manage the stress of monitoring a compromised
system and the decision-making skills required to detect cyber-attacks and rapidly
That approach is reflected in a unique badging program begun five years ago through
a partnership between Muma and ReliaQuest, a global computer network and security startup based in Tampa.
ReliaQuest Cybersecurity Labs at USF provides 50-60 students each semester with six weeks of intensive training led by
ReliaQuest engineers and analysts. Graduates receive a digital badge to display on
their social media platforms and résumés. About 20 percent receive full-time job offers
from ReliaQuest, and 70 percent accept roles somewhere in the field. The program is
free and open to all undergraduate and graduate students.
“We haven’t seen another program across the country that is co-designed, co-created
and co-delivered between an R1 research institution and an industry partner,” said
Matthew Mullarkey, professor of instruction in the Muma School of Information Systems
Mullarkey worked closely with ReliaQuest founder and CEO Brian Murphy to secure a
$1 million gift to create ReliaQuest Labs and hopes to grow the program.
On the horizon
This fall, the College of Engineering will launch a cybersecurity master’s degree.
Program director Nasir Ghani, a professor of electrical engineering, said it’s designed
to prepare graduates for higher-end programming jobs.
A joint initiative among the electrical engineering, computer science and engineering
and industrial and management systems departments, it focuses on software security,
hardware security, machine learning and artificial intelligence security.
USF also offers master’s degrees in cybercrime in the College of Behavioral Health
and Community Sciences, cybersecurity intelligence and information security in the
College of Arts and Sciences and an IACM master’s in Muma.
The recurring state funds will enable USF to add faculty whose research could identify
new areas of risk and improve security for public sector agencies, businesses and
industries in Florida and beyond.
That work aligns with the launch of the USF Global and National Security Institute (GNSI), which strengthens Florida’s leadership in addressing critical issues involving
defense, economic and political security, health and human security and infrastructure
and environmental security.
GNSI executive director Kenneth F. “Frank” McKenzie, a retired Marine Corps general
and former chief of U.S. Central Command, also took over leadership of Cyber Florida
from Mike McConnell in July.