In a ceremony Monday afternoon, Columbus State University dedicated the TSYS Center for Cybersecurity, celebrating another chapter in the partnership between the university and the electronic payments processor – and demonstrating their commitment to developing and training employees for such an essential career field.
The center is a $2.5 million project and part of the $5 million gift TSYS gave in 2015 toward the university’s more than $100 million First Choice fundraising campaign. CSU moved to the library a computer lab on the ground floor in the Center for Technology and Commerce to make room for the cybersecurity center, where two learning spaces are equipped with state-of-the-art technology to teach cybersecurity.
To put this project in perspective, CSU president Chris Markwood gave the gathered guests a history lesson about the university’s partnership with TSYS.
“When the company was first starting to flourish, they had such a need for computer programmers that they considered moving their headquarters out of Columbus so they would have easier access to the talent they craved,” Markwood said. “However, Columbus State University stepped in and worked with them to develop a partnership program that allowed CSU to tailor our computer science courses so we train the workers to the exact requirements that TSYS needed.
“I’m told there are now more than 1,000 Columbus State University alumni who have worked at TSYS at one time or another (including CEO Troy Woods). And now, of course, TSYS is the global leader in electronic payments, with a presence in more than 80 countries on five continents. They handled more than 25 billion transactions last year.”
The cybersecurity center will be “tailored to financial security,” Markwood said, “because that is what our local businesses tell us they need.”
Markwood thanked TSYS for “the trust you have placed in us. He also thanked the CSU faculty, students and staff “for creating an environment that would attract a global business leader to be part of what we are doing here.”
Patricia Watson, the chief information officer at TSYS and a senior executive vice president, said the center will develop and train “hopefully future TSYS employees in the area of information security. The completion of this facility is the last step in designing this program to develop cyber professionals of tomorrow.”
The center offers “accomplished faculty with diverse expertise, new tools and technology to empower both students and faculty to teach a new cybersecurity curriculum for undergraduate and graduate students,” Watson said.
This contribution is part of the TSYS investment in partnering with the school districts in Muscogee, Harris and Russell counties “to cultivate educational opportunities in the fields of cybersecurity and technology at the high school level,” Watson said. “And, yes, we hope to expand this into the middle schools and into the elementary schools over time. These efforts will make sure that programs like this have a steady stream of technologically literate and confident students.”
While thanking the folks who made this center possible, Linda Hadley, dean of CSU’s Turner College of Business, said, “We realize how fortunate we are, but we also realize that we have a lot to live up to.”
The college’s leaders also realized, Hadley said, they need to better prepare students “to gather, to analyze and to secure financial data. We found further evidence of that when we looked at the number of cybersecurity jobs that were going unfilled because of the lack of qualified candidates here in the state of Georgia. That was our motivation to seek to start a cybersecurity program.”
The program has two primary goals, Hadley said:
▪ Prepare a strong cybersecurity workforce, especially for the financial services industry.
▪ Produce applied research and promote technological innovation that will influence cybersecurity practice and the cybersecurity sector.
CSU already has started reaching toward those goals in the few months the center has been open this semester. It has hosted 50 middle-school students from Rothschild Leadership Academy and several cybersecurity professional meetings, said Wayne Summers, the TSYS School of Computer Science department chairman. In the past 14 months, Summers said, the department’s faculty has secured a total of approximately $750,000 in grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Security Agency and Google.