July 2014

Featured Article

University of Maryland's ACES Cyber Security Program

By Pamela R. Morse, Director of Communications, University of Maryland

As the first honors undergraduate program in cybersecurity in the United States, the University of Maryland’s Advanced Cybersecurity Experience for Students (ACES) program is a unique multidisciplinary living and learning program within the University’s Honors College. Launched in fall 2013 and catalyzed by a philanthropic commitment from Northrop Grumman, ACES is designed to educate future leaders in the field of cybersecurity through rigorous, hands-on learning experiences, an intensive interdisciplinary curriculum, collaborative projects, and professional insight from industry and business leaders.

At the official program launch event on September 25, 2013, Wes Bush, CEO, Chairman and President of Northrop Grumman said, "Not only does the ACES program represent an innovative approach to education, it addresses the shortage of cyber professionals that are in high demand by industry and government. The University of Maryland gets it when it comes to partnering with businesses." Also in attendance were University of Maryland President Wallace Loh, University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. Kirwan, the inaugural ACES cohort of 57 students, University of Maryland faculty, staff and students, and representatives from government and industry.

On September 25, 2013, ACES students, faculty, and staff celebrated at the official program launch event.

The ACES program serves as an inaugural Regional Workforce Project of The Business-Higher Education Forum (BHEF), a national organization of Fortune 500 CEOs and research university presidents dedicated to improving U.S. competitiveness through innovative education and workforce solutions.

The Honors College at Maryland is home to seven highly acclaimed living and learning programs. ACES, the newest of the seven programs, takes advantage of the living and learning model which allows students to collaborate and work together within a close-knit community of faculty and intellectually gifted undergraduates. In addition, the University’s ideal location and close proximity to the nation’s capital allows ACES students easy access to gain industry experience in cybersecurity education, research, and technology development. Maryland leads the nation in information technology jobs, and more than half of the nation’s internet traffic passes through the Washington, DC metropolitan area.


The ACES cybersecurity curriculum consists of two linked academic programs over the course of four years: a freshman-sophomore multidisciplinary living-learning program leading to an Honors College academic citation in cybersecurity (ACES I, 14 credits, launched in fall 2013) and an upper level junior-senior course of study focused on advanced technical coursework (ACES II, 16 credits, launching in fall 2015). The fourteen credits in the ACES I curriculum include two foundational courses, two cybersecurity seminars, and three credits of experiential learning.

Foundations of Cybersecurity I, the first course for incoming ACES students, provides an introduction to cybersecurity through an interdisciplinary exploration of current topics, including both the technical and non-technical aspects of the field. Featuring four pillars of learning, the course curriculum includes technical skills in Unix, ethical considerations in cybersecurity, a cyber-hygiene awareness group project, and professional development. Currently, the University’s Division of Information Technology is working to implement some of the ideas developed in the first cohort’s cyber hygiene projects.

The second course, Foundations of Cybersecurity II, continues foundational training in cybersecurity through the research, planning, designing, building and execution of a team-based cybersecurity research experiment with students again working in small teams for the duration of the semester. During this semester the focus is on the design, development and deployment of a honeypot, a computer designed to be attacked to gather data from the attackers. Students work in interdisciplinary teams to develop a hypothesis, use technical skills to build and deploy their honeypot, and analytical skills to analyze their collected data.

Additional coursework includes cybersecurity seminars, with two to three topics offered each semester. Options have so far included titles such as Accounting and Economic Aspects of Cybersecurity; Human Actors and Cyber Attacks; Beyond Technology, the Policy Implications of Cyberspace; National Security Dilemmas; and Privacy Versus In-Your-Face Big Government. During the fall 2014 semester the National Security Agency will be collaborating with ACES to offer a seminar titled Introduction to Reverse Engineering, to be taught on campus by an NSA employee.

ACES also emphasizes first-hand, experience-based learning as an integral component of preparing students to address the complex problems in the field of cybersecurity. The experiential learning requirement can be completed through a variety of options both on and off campus including internships, research, and other related experiences. During summer 2014 ACES students are completing internships with external companies such as the Gallup Organization, General Dynamics, NIST, Northrop Grumman, and Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies (SGT). Other students are pursuing opportunities on campus, such as interning with the Division of Information Technology, conducting cybersecurity research with faculty, performing cybersecurity outreach in local high schools, or participating on the ACES competition team.

Student Enrollment

Admission to ACES is competitive and selective. Students may only be invited to ACES after first being admitted to the University and then invited to participate in the Honors College. Once invited to participate in the Honors College, students are able to indicate interest in a particular living and learning program. For the first cohort enrolling in fall 2013, 117 students were invited to participate in ACES with 57 enrolling, a 49% yield rate. For the second cohort, 131 students were invited with 67 currently confirmed to enroll in fall 2014, an anticipated yield rate of 51%.

In August 2013 the initial cohort enrolled with 57 students stemming from various disciplines such as Business, Computer Science (40%), Criminology & Criminal Justice, Engineering (44%) and Mathematics. The 67 students scheduled to enroll in August 2014 as the second cohort have intended majors including Business, Biological Sciences, Computer Science (53%), Criminology & Criminal Justice, Engineering (39%), and Government & Politics.

The program is also working to increase diversity and address the gender gap in the industry. The first cohort included 13 women (23%) and 5 students from underrepresented populations (9%). Those numbers are expected to increase next year, with current data indicating the cohort will include 19 women (28%) and 7 students from underrepresented populations (10%). These percentages are only expected to grow as the program develops further.

Academic talent of the students is also strong, with each cohort’s incoming GPA and SAT averages placing students near the top of the incoming freshman class each year. The first cohort included 6 Banneker/Key scholars (the University’s most prestigious scholarship award) and the second cohort currently includes 9.

The inaugural cohort of ACES students on the first day of classes for the fall 2013 semester.

Living and Learning

The unique opportunities available to students through ACES extend to all aspects of their experience at Maryland due to the living and learning components of the program. Through living and taking classes together, ACES students become part of a supportive and collaborative community. All ACES I students are required to live in Prince Frederick Hall, where ACES will be housed beginning in fall 2014. Scheduled to open in August 2014 as the newest residence hall on campus, this technologically-advanced building includes a dedicated ACES computer lab, program offices, and classroom and event space.

To extend learning outside the classroom, program leadership work in collaboration with the ACES Student Board organization to plan extracurricular events focused on social interaction, educational opportunities, and professional development workshops. Students also benefit from industry involvement from companies such as Northrup Grumman, who collaborated with ACES to host several student events during the 2013-2014 academic year. In addition, the Parsons Corporation has provided a gift to award 24 scholarships during the next 3 years in addition to offering professional insight to students. ACES continues to attract interest from additional public and private collaborators and other academic institutions, allowing further expansion to the curricular and extra-curricular opportunities for ACES students.

The collaborative nature of the program and the diverse community it attracts brings a more human aspect to a field that could generally be perceived as purely technical and technology focused. As a national model, ACES is reversing national trends by contributing to the diversity of cyber workers. ACES students are not only trained to be cyber professionals, but also to be well-rounded individuals who can change the future of cybersecurity.


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