By MALLORY WOMER
August 30, 2005
Being one of only 65 institutions in the country that has been
declared a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information
Education by the National Security Agency simply wasn't enough for
After achieving this status in 2004, Pitt kept working to join the
elite league of institutions that meet five Committee on National
Security Systems standards. This allows the University to grant five
certifications to its students.
When Pitt recently achieved this status, it became one of 12
universities in the country - and the only one in Pennsylvania - that
offers all five certifications.
Now students seeking a master's degree in either information science
or telecommunications through Pitt's School of Information Sciences
have the opportunity to take classes in an area known as Security
Assured Information System education.
Courses in this field satisfy the requirements needed to receive
anywhere from one to all five of the certifications, depending on the
combination in which they are taken.
James Joshi, cofounder of this field and assistant professor in the
School of Information Sciences, joined the department when it tried to
design a curriculum that would satisfy the committees' standards.
After being hired by Pitt two years ago, he immediately began to work
on designing this curriculum because Pitt had not yet received any
formal recognition for its information education track.
"As soon as I got here, that was my main job, my main mission here,"
Joshi helped to develop a proposal for a track in security courses
that he sent both to the National Science Foundation and later to the
NSA for certifications. In 2003, the program was first approved for
three standards. Later, upon a recent reapplication, the final two
"Once you go into developing a curriculum, you want it to be the
best," Joshi said. "How do you do that? By following the CNSS
By participating in the NSA-sponsored educational standards, students
have access to Information Assurance Scholarship opportunities, which
include special scholarships through the Department of Defense as well
as equipment grants.
According to Joshi, these nationwide standards serve as a basis for
educating students in security and help applicants get higher
entry-level positions during interviews, when employers look for these
David Tipper, an SAIS instructor and associate professor in
telecommunications, agreed with Joshi on the benefits of having a
certification granted by NSA. He believes that the certifications make
students more marketable.
Tipper teaches courses in infrastructure protection, which, if
completed, can lead to certification in one of the five standards.
"We need a bigger talent pool to protect from catastrophic events,"
Tipper said. "A lot of infrastructure isn't protected very well."
For some students, the benefits of the program do not outweigh the
cost. Rick Anderson, a telecommunications graduate, does not have any
"I just really wanted my degree," Anderson said. "It's a lot of work."
Anderson had about two more core courses in security and at least two
more electives in the field that needed to be completed in order to
receive a certification.
Nevertheless, Anderson agrees that there are some benefits to
receiving the certifications.
"I do see where they can definitely be useful, especially when you are
in the security field," Anderson said. "I do see their importance. But
to me, I was trying to for a broader [education in]
telecommunications, like cellular or wireless."
Sept 16-18th, 2005
San Diego, California