On Wednesday, Jan. 11, Gov. Nathan Deal announced the creation of the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center, a $50 million state-owned facility located adjacent to the Augusta University Riverfront Campus that will combine expertise in academia, private industry and government to establish statewide cybersecurity standards, stimulate innovation and provide research and educational opportunities for several state and local entities, including the Augusta University Cyber Institute.
The announcement was enthusiastically received by school officials, who voiced excitement over the transformational nature of the facility.
“This visionary investment in the security of our state and nation will usher in a range of exciting opportunities for our region, our state and our university and, along with the federal relocation of the U.S. Army Cyber Command to Fort Gordon, will further position our home city of Augusta as a national epicenter of cybersecurity and education,” said President Brooks Keel. “With this unprecedented state investment, I am certain Augusta will become synonymous with innovation, where we’ll begin to attract a number of businesses and industry partners who understand the benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration.”
That interdisciplinary collaboration is especially exciting for the Cyber Institute, whose students will benefit from being located alongside cyber industry professionals.
Construction on the 150,000-square-foot facility is slated to begin this spring and represents the latest of several cyber-related investments in Augusta, including the $2.1 billion relocation of U.S. Army Cyber Command to Fort Gordon and the National Security Agency (NSA) facility, also located at Fort Gordon.
Given the urgency to develop a cybersecurity workforce, the announcement comes at an important time for the nation and confirms the state’s intention to make Augusta a leader in cyber security and education.
About the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center
Known as a cyber range, an important aspect of the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center is its ability to support cybersecurity training the same way a firing range is designed for support firearms training.
“It’s a place where people can practice defending against outside intrusions or in some cases, if it’s a military application, actually doing intrusions themselves,” said Jay Heslen, assistant professor of political science and a former intelligence officer with both the Defense Intelligence Agency and the United States Air Force. “It’s a way in a contained environment to practice what goes on in cyberspace.”
Besides the cyber range, the center will also provide dedicated space for outside agencies, including the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Georgia Technology Authority and other state and local organizations. It will also house incubator space for startup companies in the cyber technology fields.
The idea is to stimulate the free flow of ideas by bringing all aspects of cybersecurity together.
“It’s a really good way to get people together to collaborate and share best practices and efficiencies and that sort of thing,” Heslen said. “You’re creating an ecology of knowledge – an ecology of local, state and federal governments as well as public and private companies that are all coming together and are all circulating around this common thread of cyber technology.”
All this growth makes the area even more enticing for cyber companies, workers and education.
“Augusta has become sort of the focal point for cybersecurity education and training, and once you establish that, you get to a point where you become a magnet for economic development,” he said. “When that starts happening, you really become a hub for cybersecurity innovation. I think that’s really where the interesting things start happening, as companies come in and the ideas collide. They start collaborating, and innovation happens.”
The economic impact of the initial investment, not to mention the long term ramifications of that collaboration, is tough to pin down, but according to Dr. Simon Medcalfe, associate professor of finance at the James M. Hull College of Business, the impact will be immediate and long lasting.
“It’s difficult to quantify in terms of a dollar amount, but it definitely seems like this is another brick in the building blocks that will help us prosper in the future,” he said. “It’s not just $50 million – some of that is going to be spent on local businesses to help with the construction or on other personnel that are brought in or in money spent in the local economy, so the effect may be somewhat larger than that.”
The biggest impact may not come from the investment itself, however, but from what it brings to the community.
“Long term, I think this is just something that is continuing to enhance the reputation of Augusta for cybersecurity,” he says. “You have this clustering effect now – this is the place to go if you want to be trained in cybersecurity or if you want to work in cybersecurity – so for any private firm that might be interested in that, either because they’re in cybersecurity or they need that kind of service for their business, this is maybe the first place that they’ll call.”
It’s this kind of innovation cluster, he said, that eventually developed into places like Silicon Valley and the research triangle in North Carolina. And given the fundamental role that the internet plays in our lives, cyber growth appears limitless.
“This is the age we live in now,” he said. “We all bank online and the industry will necessarily be here on a national security front, so those kinds of things are never going to go away. And in the Technology Age we live in, we’re still going to need these kinds of securities for just everyday living.”
After the governor’s announcement, the excitement at the Cyber Institute was palpable.
“It was really exciting to hear,” said Matt Tennis, a senior computer science major pursuing the advanced cyber defender certificate. “Obviously, expanding upon the Cyber Institute is big news. When the Cyber Institute first came though, it was great for many, many students, but hearing about the expansion is even better, because it opens the doors beyond academia and the educational environment and into state, federal and private industry as well.”
Dr. Gretchen Caughman, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, agreed.
“The governor’s announcement is really huge for Augusta University,” she said. “We’ve known for a couple of years now that we had an impressive opportunity to do something really important and really special for our students, for the area and for the state, and this really allows us to make good on that opportunity.”
The Cyber Institute has three cybersecurity educational programs, including a bachelor’s degree and two certificate programs, and launched a master’s degree in information security management this semester.
Joanne Sexton, director of the Cyber Institute, was also excited.
“When you start talking about a cyber range, when you start talking about working with the Georgia Technology Authority, a state organization that touches all the agencies and all the citizens of Georgia, it just helps us understand the impact and makes it very real for our students,” she said.
And as Heslen points out, cyber education reaches far wider than the coding that’s at the heart of it.
“At its core, cybersecurity is certainly a very technical enterprise, but the program was built to be interdisciplinary, and I think that’s very important, because it creates more opportunities for students,” he said. “In other words, it opens up opportunities for students who aren’t in STEM fields, who are maybe in psychology or political science or even education.”
Though the Cyber Institute’s student body has doubled, Sexton realizes the announcement will have a big impact on recruitment.
“This helps fuel so many things,” she said. “It’s a tremendous advantage to students, because a lot of times, in a classroom, you don’t necessarily have that real world picture, but in this center, you’ll be a part of it.”
The Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center is expected to take 18 months to complete.