What An Illinois Cybersecurity Scholarship Can Do For You

January 28th is National Data Privacy Day.

Illinois is one of a handful of institutions to receive support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for students interested in studying cybersecurity and who want to work for the government.

The CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service, a merit-based award, is distributed to Illinois students through the Illinois Cyber Security Scholars Program (ICSSP). ICSSP also provides other benefits to scholarship participants. These include a seminar that introduces students to scholars in the field, guidance on course selection, and internship opportunities in federal or national research labs. Undergraduate and graduate students in the College of Engineering, the College of Law, and the iSchool Master’s program in Information Management are encouraged to apply.

ICSSP has supported over thirty Illinois students since 2009.

In honor of National Data Privacy Day, we spoke with Bradley Williams (left), a second-year student in the College of Law, about his interest in cyber security and his experience in the ICSSP. Williams was also part of the ICSSP team that placed third in the Cyber Security Awareness Week (CSAW) competition at New York University last year.

Technology Services (Tech Services) : What first sparked your interest in cyber security?

Bradley Williams (BW): It’s kind of a natural fit for someone with my background. My dad was a computer engineer, my mom works for IBM, my brother’s a computer scientist, so I’m very comfortable with technology. I myself was an English major here at Illinois, which is a little weird, given my family and that I was great at math and science in high school. I think that runs against the narrative, which is that English majors are good at writing and bad at math and science. But I wanted to get better at writing, so I took English classes. I still had passion projects that used HTML and CSS. I was hired by Applied Technologies for Learning in the Arts and Sciences (ATLAS) here on campus as a student writer. But I started doing web development there. Then I went to law school, where I do a lot of writing and technology work at the same time.

Tech Services: What is it like to study cybersecurity at Illinois?

BW: I applied to the U of I for law school because of this program. The program is great for my varied interests in technology, web communication, and privacy and security.

Tech Services: Why is cybersecurity important?

BW: We’re at a strange time. So many devices are connected to the internet, we need to develop standards to ensure that new technologies meet those standards so that confidential information is secure. At the same time, policy is twenty-five years behind. So we have one billion accounts that are breached at a huge place like Yahoo!. And we’re at a really critical time for cybersecurity. We have a new administration in the U.S. that claims that cybersecurity is a priority. We need policy makers who are educated in technology, we need lawyers who are well-versed in technology, who can do legal work and understand people who build the infrastructure for these systems.

Tech Services: Has receiving the scholarship helped you expand your understanding of cybersecurity in any way? If so, how?

BW: Very much! You usually never get anything like this at law school. Law students are so busy; why take extra classes in cybersecurity if they’re not already part of your course work? But with ICSSP, cybersecurity classes count for law credit. This scholarship has broadened my knowledge by making cybersecurity part of my law degree.

Tech Services: Where do you want to go from here? Do you think your time as a CyberCorps scholar will help you with your future career(s)?

BW: Next summer, I have an internship focused on cybersecurity for a federal agency. Very excited about that.

Tech Services: What advice would you give to other students interested in pursuing cybersecurity as a career?

BW: Read a lot. And read in topics you’re not so comfortable with. There can be a steep learning curve for people who don’t know things like how the internet works, etc. But it’s OK if you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone. Also, being comfortable conversing helps a ton. Do well in school! And, of course, be willing to learn. It’s OK to not have the background, but you need to be willing to learn.