U.S. Bank awards UMSL students cybersecurity scholarships

U.S. Bank IS Risk and Compliance Analyst Thomas Case (at left), Senior Vice President and Information Security Officer Marcia Peters (second from left) and Risk and Compliance Analyst Matthew Kohnen (far right) presented $10,000 worth of scholarships to cybersecurity students (center, from left) Vii Bishop, Alan Alyas and David Autry during a ceremony on Oct. 11 in Anheuser-Busch Hall. (Photo by August Jennewein)

David Autry could probably list each computer he’s ever owned – down to the model.

His fascination for technology began at the age of 7 when he received his first PC, a TRS-80 Model III, for Christmas. The computer came with a basic programming book, and he became interested right away. In the evenings he would work his way through the guide until he grew tired, and by the time he reached junior high, he could disassemble computer games with his buddies for a competitive advantage.

These starter skills helped him transition to large-scale projects, including development of an application that transforms two-dimensional magnetic images of a human brain into a three-dimensional model. Autry is now honing these skills further at the University of Missouri–St. Louis in the Master of Science in Information Systems and cybersecurity certificate programs.

The self-taught programmer is a standout in his UMSL courses and has secured a new $5,000 cybersecurity scholarship from U.S. Bank.

Senior leaders from the organization and UMSL presented the scholarship to Autry at a ceremony on Oct. 11 in the U.S. Bank Executive Education Room of Anheuser-Busch Hall. Alan Alyas and Vii Bishop, both students in the UMSL cybersecurity program, also received individual scholarships worth $2,500 from U.S. Bank as part of a three-year, $10,000 commitment.

“At U.S. Bank, we seek to earn the trust of our customers every day, and it starts with ensuring their information is safe and secure,” said Marcia Peters, a senior vice president and information security officer. “Cybersecurity is at the heart of keeping our customers, employees and communities protected from attacks. In order to maintain that safety, we need smart, well-trained cybersecurity experts to lead the way. That is why we are excited to partner with the University of Missouri–St. Louis to empower our next generation of cybersecurity students.”

UMSL introduced its cybersecurity program in 2014 with a multidisciplinary approach between the departments of computer science and information systems. Since then, it has acquired the only four-year National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education designation in Missouri. The National Security Agency also recently awarded the program two grants, totaling $493,650, toward enhancing curriculum and lab infrastructure.

Faculty and administrators are hopeful these developments as well as scholarship funding will help address the cybersecurity talent shortage in the St. Louis region.

“We are proud to offer a strong, applied curriculum that blends the management and technical aspects of cybersecurity,” said Charlie Hoffman, dean of the College of Business Administration. “We are grateful to U.S. Bank for recognizing the excellence of our program with these scholarships for our talented students.”

Bishop, a 2003 Department of Music alumnus, said he likely wouldn’t be able to finish the certificate program without financial assistance and is thankful for U.S. Bank’s commitment.

Prior to returning to UMSL, Bishop spent a decade playing music in Nashville. His interest in the career change stems from years of practice analyzing and processing data as well as his natural inclination toward mathematics. He is particularly interested in a career in penetration testing to help protect sensitive information from malicious attacks.

“It’s great to be back at UMSL,” Bishop said while addressing the crowd at the scholarship ceremony. “I have much gratitude for providing the way for me to stay in school. This opens a door for me to finish what I’ve started, and for that I’m very grateful.”

Bishop’s decision to pursue cybersecurity at UMSL was sparked by Alyas’ recommendation while the pair worked together at a local violin shop. Before opening the store in the morning, the friends would listen to Johann Sebastian Bach or other renowned composers and analyze the music.

The students are now finding similarities in the way they approach their new coursework.

“What I loved about music was the routine,” Bishop said. “The daily get in there and go at it. I’m finding the same things from mathematics and music in computer sciences and information systems types of work.”

Also an alumnus of UMSL’s music performance program, Alyas returned to campus after researching the MSIS and cybersecurity programs despite having no previous information systems experience. He hoped his background in music would enable him to become a successful cybersecurity analyst as both fields require critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

This assumption has proven to be true. His natural understanding of the behaviors and reactions of people enables him to appreciate the human and social engineering aspects of cybersecurity.

While the transition into the field hasn’t come without challenges, Alyas thanked faculty members for working with him on the material and making him feel like part of the family.

“They don’t just dedicate their time in class but they stay after class to answer my silly questions,” Alyas said. “They are always available via phone, email, or on weekends I can catch them at a coffee shop in the Central West End.”

Chair of the IS Department Dinesh Mirchandani said these students of varied backgrounds are reflective of the population he and his colleagues hoped to reach when developing the curricula.

“We created our cybersecurity program three short years ago with a vision of becoming one of the best programs in the country,” Mirchandani said. “Our goal was to provide students of all backgrounds the skills and experience they needed to enter into successful and fulfilling careers in cybersecurity. My colleagues and I are immensely grateful to U.S. Bank for supporting our vision and our students with these scholarships.”

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