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May 3, 2019

Mason named n.1 in Governors' Cyber Talent Discovery Program

George Mason University has reached the Top Tier (the top 3%) of US colleges in identifying students with a natural aptitude to excel in cybersecurity. Mason's efforts play a pivotal role in the national initiative launched by Governor Northam and 24 other governors to close the elite cyber skills gap with China and Russia. After 17 days of Cyber FastTrack competition, George Mason University was ranked Number 1 in Virginia and Number 1 in the nation, out of 5,200 US colleges, in the number of students discovering their aptitude for cybersecurity careers.  The state-by-state Cyber FastTrack leaderboard is posted at https://www.sans.org/cyber-fast-track/state-ranking and the National rankings are at https://www.sans.org/cyber-fast-track/nationally-rankedThe open access discovery opportunity ends on May 10. 

Students who do well in the assessment will win access to a simulation/game called CyberStart in which they solve increasingly challenging real-world problems faced by cybersecurity professionals. They will also gain access to CyberStart Essentials, a hands-on, on-line cybersecurity foundations course, and they will become eligible for $2.5 million in scholarships for advanced study in cybersecurity and direct connections to employers seeking elite cyber talent.  In launching Cyber Fastrack the governors encouraged high school students (during March/April) and college students (April/May) to discover whether they liked cybersecurity challenges and had the tenacity, curiosity, and problem-solving skills needed by professionals in the field. More information on Cyber FastTrack may be found at https://www.cyber-fasttrack.org/

According to Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, "The leadership shown by George Mason University is commendable. Without the talent being discovered in Cyber FastTrack, shortages of elite talent will put the United States at a severe disadvantage in protecting power systems, financial systems and military systems in times of conflict, and protecting businesses and personal privacy in peace time.  George Mason University has set a high bar for other schools in Virginia and in the nation."  SANS Institute partnered with the 25 state governors to launch Cyber FastTrack. 

It takes very little work to expand participation and many students are surprised to learn they have a lot of talent and like the challenges.  Here's how students describe the impact: "We need more programs like this one. I wish I had had this in high school, it would have given me a much clearer direction of where I see my future. There are too few programs that reward creativity while at the same time provide skills that could be used to land a well-paid position at a company" (Virginia Commonwealth University student) and "This program sparked a hidden interest of mine in cybersecurity and I'm sure it has for other students across the nation." (Germanna Community College student).  George Mason jumped 50 places in the national rankings by inviting students outside the IT and computer science disciplines.