WASHINGTON — A new academic engagement network will allow U.S. Cyber Command to expand its access to more research on hard cyber problems that will benefit national security.

U.S. Cyber Command now has access to a new academic engagement network,

WASHINGTON — U.S. Cyber Command is expanding its partnerships with universities and colleges through a new academic engagement network, tapping into a significant reservoir of talent and research that can help tackle the tough cyber challenges facing the nation.

While some similar partnerships existed previously, they weren’t formalized.

“We haven’t had a really structured and formal program that has deliberate objectives, activities and milestones around academic engagement,” Col. Scott Nelson, director of Academic Engagement at Cyber Command, told C4ISRNET in an interview. “As we look at this cyber environment being much more complex and especially the threat environment, we need much more diverse thinking, experience, innovation and talent and those collaborative academic networks are ways to get after that.”

The effort, which was announced in early January and includes 84 academic institutions throughout the nation, is meant to engage the future workforce, increase cyber applied research and innovation, expand cyber -focused analytics partnership and bolster the strategic dialogue in cyber, explained Nelson. Within the next 180 days, participating institutions will have access to a series of monthly webinars and tech talks, opportunities for students to do research with Cyber Command through a mentorship program and research conferences where students and faculty can present research to the command.

Gen. Paul Nakasone, the commander of Cyber Command, has made partnerships a pillar of his tenure, encouraging greater collaboration across the federal government in combating malicious cyber activity, collaboration with the private sector on solving cybersecurity challenges and collaboration with academia to stay ahead of the curve and attract bright minds to the military.

With a staggering shortage of skilled cyber professionals across the world, everyone from the government to the private sector are competing for a sliver of this talent pool. Cyber Command’s new academic engagement network will serve as a recruitment tool to educate students about cyber jobs in the military, especially on the civilian side.

“It’s a very fierce talent competition, and we think there [are] exciting missions that people can do here and really serve the nation that a lot of students — unless they just happen to have a CYBERCOM alumni working as an adjunct faculty member or something like that — just don’t even know about,” Cyber Command Executive Director Dave Frederick told C4ISRENT. “If you didn’t grow up around the military or near a military base or have some kind of connection to the military, people don’t know that there’re civilian jobs ... We’re really hoping to get the word out on that.”

“What I found in some of the early planning and engagements on this is a lot of universities just don’t really understand Cyber Command and what we’re about,” he added.

The partnership also allows Cyber Command to expand its presence across the nation and expose some of its hard problems to the research community. Cyber Command publishes a list on its website called innovation problems, which are a set of significant challenges reflecting the most pressing capability needs. Through the academic partnership, the command is encouraging students and faculty to focus research in those areas.

“If we have a problem that the staff is having challenges to get to or just on a higher priority, could students weigh in and provide us thesis papers on specific studies?’ Nelson said of the tangible national security benefits of the partnership. “That’d be very helpful to the staff to understand the problem.”

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

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