by Buddy Pearson
Ambareen Siraj has her sights set on the future. And that future is computer science, specifically cybersecurity.
Siraj, an associate professor of computer science at Tennessee Tech, teaches security courses at both the undergraduate and graduate level. She has focused her research on the vast areas surrounding cybersecurity, including situation assessment in network security, secure communication in smart grids and security education.
“Our life is integrated with computing. It’s in our phone. It’s at home. It’s in everything we do,” Siraj said. “Computing is everywhere. This software has to have people to write it and secure it. Cybersecurity is the job now and in the future.”
Siraj has authored or co-authored approximately 30 journal and conference articles while taking an active part in promoting cybersecurity training throughout the nation.
As the director of Tech’s Cybersecurity Education, Research and Outreach Center, she is the leader on four National Science Foundation grants involving cybersecurity and is the founder of the national Women in Cybersecurity conference, an effort to recruit, retain and advance women in the cybersecurity industry.
Siraj hosted the first-ever CyberCorps SFS Bootcamp on Tech’s campus in August. The two-day bootcamp mentored approximately 40 aspiring cybersecurity students from around the nation by providing information and insight from guest speakers from Homeland Security, Dynetics, and MITRE Corporation, as well as faculty and staff from Tennessee Tech. Around the same time, she also conducted on campus Cybersecurity camps for high school students and teachers in Tennessee, as part of NSA GenCyber program.
In between the various camps, Siraj ventured to the White House complex in Washington, D.C., on two occasions to help promote computer science and cybersecurity. She met with other educators and members of President Barack Obama’s administration in discussing the “Computer Science for All” initiative that is aimed at coordinating efforts to boost K-12 computer science education and increasing the pipeline of national and cybersecurity workers for the United States.
“Computer science is not even considered a high school elective course in most states,” Siraj said. “We want to get computer science not just in the high schools, but in middle schools as well across the country.”
Siraj’s effort to educate students and enhance the cybersecurity field of study goes beyond classes, research projects, workshops and conferences.
Last year, Tech’s center became the home of the Tennessee CyberCorps, a scholarship program funded by a more than $4 million NSF grant. The CyberCorps program at Tennessee Tech is the only such program in the state and one of only 63 across the country.
“She has a lot of passion for what she does. What she is doing is very exciting, and it has been a source of pride for the department,” said Jerry Gannod, chairman of the computer science department. “She mentors students and runs the outreach program. There are so many moving parts and she’s been able to manage them all. The center is in very good hands with her.”