NSA, DHS Name Southeast a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education


The NSA/DHS designation validates that Southeast’s cybersecurity program is nationally recognized for its quality.

The National Security Agency (NSA) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have designated Southeast Missouri State as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education (CAE-CDE) through 2024.

The announcement makes Southeast one of only three four-year institutions in Missouri to hold this designation and one of just 250 nationally. The designation follows an application process led by Dr. Sumanth Yenduri, chair of the Department of Computer Science, and Dr. Vijay Anand, director of Southeast’s cybersecurity program.

Dr. Carlos Vargas, president of Southeast Missouri State University, said the designation as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education is a rigorous external validation of the quality of Southeast’s cybersecurity program.

The designation provides opportunities for federal grants to further develop and enhance cybersecurity education at Southeast.

“This recognition places Southeast’s cybersecurity program in esteemed company as an elite program preparing graduates for top-tier positions among industry leaders needing a highly qualified, cyber savvy workforce,” Vargas said. “I would like to congratulate and offer my heartfelt thanks to Dr. Yenduri, Dr. Anand and all of our computer science faculty for their commitment to pursuing this recognition but more importantly for the rigorous instruction they provide to help produce highly qualified cybersecurity graduates.

“The designation by the National Security Agency underscores what we have known at Southeast for many years – that our cybersecurity program is a nationally recognized destination program,” Vargas said. “We look forward to the many future opportunities this provides, including garnering federal grants to further develop and enhance cybersecurity education at Southeast.”

Southeast’s ability to meet the increasing demands of the criteria required of CAE-CDE recognition will serve the nation well in contributing to the protection of the National Information Infrastructure, according to Karen Leuschner, national CAE program manager with the National Security Agency.

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A critical national shortage of professionals with cybersecurity skills was recently identified in a National Cyber Strategy released last fall. That strategy highlights higher education as an important solution to defending America’s cyberspace, she said.

“A highly skilled cybersecurity workforce is a strategic national security advantage,” she said. “The United States Government will continue to invest in and enhance programs that build the domestic talent pipeline, from primary through postsecondary education. Education is the key to promoting these ideals.”

Later this month, Southeast officials, including Dr. Alberto Davila, dean of the Harrison College of Business and Computing, Yenduri and Anand will attend the 2019 CAE Executive Leadership Program in Pensacola, Florida, where Southeast’s cybersecurity program will be officially honored as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education.

Lucas Kossack, a December 2018 Southeast cybersecurity graduate, is now an associate consultant with Mandiant, a FireEye company in Washington, D.C.

“This is an external validation that we are doing a great job in providing a quality education in cybersecurity with dedicated faculty and that we are meeting workforce demands,” Yenduri said. “No praise is enough for Dr. Vijay Anand who has been highly successful in the growth of our cybersecurity program.”

This designation positions Southeast for opportunities to pursue funding for scholarships, grants, summer camps and greater security awareness programs, Yenduri said.

The designation follows an announcement last August that Southeast’s Bachelor of Science in cybersecurity has been named one of just four programs nationally to receive accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc., (ABET) under its new program-specific criteria for cybersecurity.

Southeast launched its Bachelor of Science in cybersecurity in 2011 to meet the growing need for security of computer networks and systems that store digital personal, financial, health and governmental records. At the time, Southeast’s cybersecurity program was one of its kind in Missouri and one of less than 50 nationally. The program has grown from 15 students in its infancy to more than 150 students today.

For the past seven years, Southeast’s cyber defense team has won the Missouri Collegiate Cyber Defense competition and has regularly advanced to the Midwest Regional Cyber Defense Competition which draws teams from schools in 12 Midwest states.

Southeast’s cybersecurity graduates are increasingly sought after by tech-savvy employers who rely on cyber-infrastructure for their operations. Beginning next fall, Southeast cybersecurity students will be able to advance their education in a new Master of Science in cybersecurity. The Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education has approved the new program focusing on critical societal and business infrastructure – water, power, communications, military, healthcare and transportation – to meet this need.