For the second time in Texas A&M University-San Antonio’s relatively short life, it has been recognized for the rigor of its cybersecurity certification program.

The National Security Agency renewed the university’s designation as a National Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education through 2022.

At a celebration Monday, university President Cynthia Teniente-Matson called it a “special moment” for her “beautiful and growing” campus, not least because the average annual salary of a cybersecurity worker is around $116,000.

“The lucrative nature of these jobs provide an opportunity to earn a good living and escalate social mobility,” Teniente-Matson said. “This is what we want for our students and certainly for our community.”

A&M-San Antonio is one of three universities here, and two community colleges, with the tag. Our Lady of the Lake University learned this month that it was awarded the designation until 2022. The University of Texas at San Antonio’s designation lasts until 2021. San Antonio College and St. Phillips College got it in 2014 until 2020.

Combining academic and military efforts, San Antonio is often cited as one of the largest hubs of cybersecurity experts in the nation — second only to Washington, D.C.

The roughly 200 students in the 5-year-old Center for Information Technology and Cyber Security at A&M-San Antonio can get NSA-stamped certifications along with their diplomas if they complete a series of 10 courses, said Akhtar Lodgher, the center’s director. The center is located in the College of Business, where three degrees — applied science, business administration and computer science — now include courses that count toward the certificate.

Others have the option to receive a four-credit introductory cybersecurity certificate, Lodgher said.

“Cybersecurity is something that everybody needs to learn about — not for only tech folks to know about,” he said.

Also in attendance was U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, who had careers in the Central Intelligence Agency and as a senior adviser at a cybersecurity firm. He called cybersecurity knowledge fundamental, likening it to music, history or math classes in middle and high school.

“I’m neither a musician, historian or mathematician. But they are things that are so basic to our society that we need to be aware of them,” he said in an interview.

A&M-San Antonio also received an NSA cybersecurity grant to develop programs geared toward younger students — likely in Harlandale and Floresville independent school districts and Brooks Academy of Science and Engineering, Lodgher said.

“We must bring students more awareness,” he said. “It has to come unconsciously to them.”

UTSA has already started making headway on that front. It recently announced a $5 million National Science Foundation grant to create the new Center for Security and Privacy Enhanced Cloud Computing, which it expects to further its own cybersecurity focus as well as those of Northside ISD high school students.

Internships and other mentoring opportunities at the university will be available to students at Warren, Taft, Business Careers and Harlan high schools, according to a UTSA announcement.

“If we want to fill 1.5 million jobs, we need to begin recruiting smart kids and giving them the opportunity to experience a security career firsthand,” said Ravi Sandhu, the executive director of UTSA’s Institute for Cyber Security, according to the release.

To receive the NSA designation, university programs must meet a level of rigor and have been up and running for at least three years. St. Mary’s University and the University of the Incarnate Word both said their programs were too young to qualify.

“This is not an administrative thing that we’re doing today — it’s a big deal,” Hurd told a small crowd at Monday’s celebration. “We’re continuing to make sure we’re able to defend our digital infrastructure in an increasingly complicated and scary world.”

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