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Gift from Alum Supports Engineering College’s Program in Cyber Systems Security

Tommy AugustssonTommy Augustsson

When he was approached after making a presentation at NASA Langley Research Center during his master's studies, Tommy Augustsson could hardly believe what he was hearing.

The late Gene Goglia, then a department chair in Old Dominion University's College of Engineering, told Augustsson he would make a perfect doctoral candidate in engineering, and that his engineering systems research interests would match up perfectly with those of mechanical engineering professor Surendra Tiwari.

"I kind of looked around and said, 'You mean me?' I couldn't believe he was mentioning this," Augustsson recalled.

It turns out Goglia had a good eye for talent. Augustsson would earn his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from ODU in 1981, making him one of the university's first doctoral engineering degree recipients. Twenty-five years after graduating, Augustsson expressed his thanks to Tiwari (who died in 2008) by matching a $100,000 donation to endow a scholarship in the ODU professor's honor.

"It was clear very early on what a stroke of luck it was to be at Old Dominion at that time, and working with Dr. Tiwari. It was a very dynamic time," Augustsson said.

The former Army Special Forces soldier began working at General Dynamics in 1984, where he was exposed to the emerging field of computer security, particularly while working as the chief information officer for the military subcontractor from 2005 until his retirement in 2011. The notion of protecting vital information from threats over computer networks became an obsession for Augustsson.

"I think that anyone who goes into engineering and sciences should be aware of this because of the ramifications it can have on their life," he said. "There ought to be a class for everyone in engineering so students understand how important this is for any organization, or any individual."

This spring, Augustsson made another $100,000 donation to ODU's Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology, this time to help fund a program in cybersecurity education.

The Batten College has created a graduate-level certificate program in cyber systems security, which begins this fall. The program is aimed at understanding and mitigating the cybersecurity risks faced by individuals and businesses, and finding ways to design cyber defenses.

Classroom instruction, lab sessions and projects will combine to prepare students to meet the growing need for employees with the diverse skills required in a range of sectors that use information technology to support their operations.

Adrian Gheorghe, Batten Endowed Chair in system of systems engineering and chair of the Batten College's Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering, was appointed in 2012 by Provost Carol Simpson as ODU's representative on Gov. Bob McDonnell's Cybersecurity Task Force. The group has as one of its mandates promoting a startup accelerator for cybersecurity entrepreneurs.

Such companies would need skilled personnel, something that drives the motivation for the creation of cybersecurity programs.

ODU's computer science department in the College of Sciences is also offering an online certificate program in cybersecurity starting this fall. Designed to train working professionals in computer science and related fields, the one-year, 12-credit certificate program can be completed as part of an M.S. in computer science.

The program, which is fully asynchronous, has no set class times so as to meet the demands of professionals already working in technology fields.

Gheorghe said it's important that ODU's programs do more than teach the basics of information security.

"This is the right time to look at this from a university perspective," Gheorghe said. "But the technology and science is changing so fast. It's important that we build into the program the study of the nature of the change itself."

Gheorghe said new so-called disruptive technologies, such as the industrial Internet, or intelligent systems that rely on advanced signal processing, offer new roles and new challenges to the field of cyber systems security.

"We have to be aware that changes are so complicated that we have to enrich this program from the beginning," he said.

In his nearly 30 years at General Dynamics, Augustsson, who saw myriad changes to the nature of secure systems, agrees with Gheorghe. "If you're trying to develop a Rosetta Stone of this, you'd have to update this every semester," he said.

However, the fundamental knowledge that underpins the principles of cybersecurity is something every engineer and computer scientist should possess, Augustsson said.

"How do we protect the information we have? At my company, we worked with incredibly classified military and government data, but it could be something as simple as keeping a project an engineer is working on from competitors. Students, irrespective of their major, need to understand how to protect information."