The Charger Blog

New Grant to Support Cybersecurity Training for the Connecticut National Guard

The University’s Connecticut Institute of Technology has received a grant for nearly $200,000 from the National Security Agency and Department of Defense for Project IRONCLAD, which will support cutting-edge cybersecurity training for members of the Connecticut National Guard.

November 9, 2020

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Image of Abe Baggili and his class.
Abe Baggili, Ph.D., is leading Project IRONCLAD and overseeing the curriculum development.

Cinthya Grajeda-Mendez '17, '20 M.S. is a U.S. Army veteran with a passion for cybersecurity. She is now bringing her military and cybersecurity backgrounds together to help train members of the Connecticut National Guard.

A leader in cybersecurity education, the University has received a grant for nearly $200,000 from the National Security Agency and Department of Defense for "cybersecurIty tRaining for the cOnNeCticut nationaL guArD" (Project IRONCLAD), which will enable the University to provide cybersecurity training to members of the Connecticut National Guard. Grajeda-Mendez, the University’s cybersecurity lab and grants manager, will oversee the virtual training infrastructure and facilitate training exercises.

“My Army and cybersecurity careers put me in a position where I understand how both of them operate,” she said. “I am very excited to play a role in training our National Guard in cybersecurity. This experience will help immensely in ensuring the security of our state and nation.”

‘Training the Connecticut National Guard in cybersecurity is something we are passionate about’

A one-week training program run twice throughout the year, Project IRONCLAD will focus on cyber operations – specifically, defensive and incidence response operations. It will take a hands-on approach to training with a simulated learning environment and laboratory exercises that enable trainees to solve cases that resemble what they will face in the real world. Trainees will build skills in areas such as cyber forensics, reverse engineering, and cyber defense.

Earlier this year, the University launched the Connecticut Institute of Technology as part of a university-wide effort to create a technology hub that fosters interdisciplinary exploration and innovation, and incorporates critical knowledge in cybersecurity, computing, data science, and AI across all programs.

Ibrahim “Abe” Baggili, Ph.D., an internationally recognized expert in cybersecurity who serves as director of the Institute, is the principal investigator of Project IRONCLAD and is overseeing the curriculum development.

“We are excited to be serving the state of Connecticut at the Connecticut Institute of Technology,” said Dr. Baggili, who also serves as Elder Family Chair and assistant dean of the University’s Tagliatela College of Engineering. “Working and training the Connecticut National Guard in cybersecurity is something we are passionate about, and this grant is a testament to our dedication. Working with the Connecticut National Guard and the Department of Defense is an honor, and it helps us serve our country and state.”

Image of Cinthya Grajeda-Mendez '17, '20 M.S.
Cinthya Grajeda-Mendez '17, '20 M.S.
‘It is urgent to upskill our labor force in cybersecurity’

One of only 21 universities in the Unites States – and one of two in New England – that have been designated as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations by the National Security Agency, the University of New Haven offers the only Scholarship for Service program in Connecticut. Alumni have gone on to work at prestigious companies and federal agencies, and students have uncovered major software weaknesses and presented their research to a global audience.

For Liberty Page '91 M.S., program coordinator for the University’s undergraduate program in cybersecurity and networks and a Connecticut native, the University’s funding for Project IRONCLAD is an important way for the University to make an even more meaningful difference.

“Receiving this funding to build the local cybersecurity labor force and have the skills stay in Connecticut means a lot to me personally and professionally,” said Prof. Page, who will be part of the program. “We are honored and excited to be selected for funding for Project IRONCLAD. It is urgent to upskill our labor force in cybersecurity now, and the National Guard is a natural source of devoted individuals who are ready to learn the critical cybersecurity skills necessary to defend our state and our nation.”

After the training, the University will evaluate the success of the program with tools such as surveys and an after-action review (AAR) to explore individual perspectives, ensure the highest quality training, and continue to improve the program. Major Ryan Miller, team chief of the Defensive Cyber Operations Element at the Connecticut National Guard, will conduct the AAR, as well as manage the recruitment of members from the Connecticut National Guard and associated organizations.

“The University of New Haven has an elite cybersecurity program and is uniquely qualified to instruct our members in the art of cyber incident response,” he said. “Our team members will benefit from the University's talented pool of creative instructors who are already forging new and innovative solutions to tomorrow's challenges. Our members will be better prepared to respond to the citizens of Connecticut following a cyber incident.

“This NSA-sponsored scholarship represents a unique opportunity to bring together top leaders in academia, digital forensics, cybersecurity and the Connecticut Military Department to protect and defend our critical infrastructure from cyber threats,” he continued.

‘It is important for us to innovate and provide the best learning experience’

Trainees will be using cutting-edge technology, such as a new Cyber Range which will enable them to have access to a virtual environment that mimics real-life scenarios. Although it is still unclear whether the training will take place on campus or fully online because of the coronavirus global pandemic, Grajeda-Mendez, the project’s infrastructure manager, is looking forward to creating a learning experience that is both state-of-the-art and meaningful.

“Now, more than ever, it is important for us to innovate and provide the best learning experience for our students,” she said. “I will ensure that we create and manage a learning environment that is easily accessible, scalable, secured, and efficient in providing a full hands-on learning experience that trainees can access regardless of their location.”