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Success in Innovation

Success in innovation: the Anderson University Center for Cybersecurity exceeds expectations in more ways than one


It’s important to understand that one of the early steps in creating a new academic program at any university is something called a pro forma.

A Latin phrase meaning “as a matter of form,” it’s a simple projection, really. Developing an academic program pro forma essentially boils down to answering the question: Is it feasible? Or, to put it more simply: Does the plan make sense?

Anderson University is one of the fastest growing universities in the country. So it stands to reason that its administrators have conducted a number of pro formas over the years. And their projections are usually right on the mark.

The Anderson University Center for Cybersecurity is a notable exception. As it turns out, to those planning for the first crop of students into the program for the fall of 2020, what happened didn’t make sense at all.

Dr. Kenneth Knapp isn’t used to making mistakes. Sure, it’s an important part of learning. But for those who are as accomplished as he is, success outweighs failure by a wide margin.

Dr. Knapp is well-suited to his role as the founding director of the Anderson University Center for Cybersecurity. A 20-year veteran of the United States Air Force, his resume is long and speaks for itself. Certifications in security systems, cloud security and ethical hacking. A bachelor’s degree in computer science. An MBA and Ph.D. from Auburn. More than 30 academic papers published in leading industry journals, ranging from the security architecture of biological cells to cyber warfare. Experience in launching cybersecurity programs from the ground up, first at the University of Tampa and now at Anderson University.

But for all of his accomplishments—and his role as a cybersecurity prophet—there’s one thing he didn’t see coming: just how successful the first recruiting class of the Center for Cybersecurity would be.

Which brings us back to the academic pro forma Anderson University administrators created in January 2018, in the early stages of developing a comprehensive cybersecurity program.

A vital part of any pro forma is the number of students it assumes will enroll in year one. AU’s best-case projection? A dozen people, give or take.

As it turns out, he underestimated.

Last August, 21 students became part of the Anderson University Center for Cybersecurity’s inaugural class.

In hindsight, maybe Dr. Knapp should have seen this coming.

Cybercrime is one of the fastest growing global security threats. It therefore stands to reason its rise requires a commensurate response from the government, the private sector and academic institutions. Therein lies the incredible opportunity. Anderson University’s commitment to helping keep our nation’s information technology infrastructure secure—and meeting the needs of the 21st century workforce—is why the Center for Cybersecurity exists.

“The MetaCTF competition included more than 1,000 teams from around the world. AU’s first-year cybersecurity students placed 74th out of 1,000, finishing higher than teams from Princeton, Georgia Tech, Boston University, The University of Maryland and Texas A&M, among others.”​​​​​​​

— Dr. Kenneth Knapp
Professor and Director, Center for Cybersecurity

“Modern society has become extremely dependent on information technologies. Unfortunately, many of our networks, devices and critical computer systems have significant security vulnerabilities,” Dr. Knapp said. “It’s the job of a cybersecurity professional to help secure and protect the computers that we depend on for daily living.”

That’s where the Center for Cybersecurity’s initial class of 21 students comes in. But as impressive as that number is, what’s more important is the impact they’re already having.

Last semester, Dr. Knapp’s students signed up for a regional cybersecurity competition at the University of Virginia.

It’s called MetaCTF. CTF stands for “capture the flag,” a type of competition that tests skills by presenting cybersecurity challenges to contestants, who are judged by how well, and quickly, they solve them. Think of it as a college football bowl game for computer science students. But instead of two teams in a head-to-head battle, hundreds compete. In the case of MetaCTF, more than 1,000 signed up from institutions around the world.

Students from the Anderson University Center for Cybersecurity (its team name was “root@au”) placed 74th. AU students finished higher than teams from Princeton University, Georgia Tech, the University of Maryland, Boston University, Michigan State University and Texas A&M, among others. Anderson University cybersecurity student Hyeokjin Oh said the competition didn’t just test his skills, its rigorous challenges brought him closer to his classmates.

“There were so many times when we thought we hit a brick wall; but as we approached the problem from different angles and researched how to solve a specific problems that we did not learn how to do, we were able to eventually come up with solutions,” he said. “This experience is something I will not forget, not to mention how far we got in the competition.” Knapp said that this level of motivation in his students excites him for the future of the Cybersecurity program. He is planning for further growth in the program by the 2021 school year by bringing on more students and starting new programs within the Center for Cybersecurity.

“I would like to see the program grow in both quality and quantity,” Knapp said. “We are developing a Cybersecurity Advisory Board to help provide industry expertise in the development and maturation of our entire set of programs.”

Knapp is also considering developing a cybersecurity graduate program in the next few years through the Center for Cybersecurity.

Given the Center’s initial success, expect the first graduate class to be larger—and more accomplished—than anyone expects.

To apply or learn more about the Anderson University Center for Cybersecurity visit