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Sanford Family Cyber Security Lab Dedicated

Friday, October 5, 2018

In today’s digital age—one reliant on computers and the Internet to drive commerce, provide a steady flow of information, and protect our society’s infrastructure—data breaches and exposure of private information have become an almost daily occurrence. As the world’s digital infrastructure has grown, so too has cyber crime. St. John’s University has been on the forefront of educating the next generation of students who will combat this new scourge with its Bachelor of Science program in Cyber Security Systems and the new Sanford Family Cyber Security Lab.

On October 3, St. John’s formally dedicated the lab, which is located in St. Augustine Hall on the Queens, NY, campus. The lab is named for the family of Linda S. Sanford ’74Ed, ’98HON, St. John’s University Board of Trustees Emerita, and former Senior Vice President and Group Executive, IBM Storage Systems Group.

The state-of-the-art space allows students to work with software and employ techniques for intrusion detection, vulnerability mitigation, network perimeter defense, incident response, network forensics investigation, and malware analysis. The lab is designed for digital and hands-on forensic analysis, and uses 2D and 3D cameras and visualizers to capture hands-on activities, and rebroadcast them “live” across the classroom and online.

After a blessing from Rev. Bernard M. Tracey, C.M., Executive Vice President for Mission, a special ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to formally dedicate the space. Participating were Ms. Sanford and her family; Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s; and Katia Passerini, Ph.D., Dean, College of Professional Studies.

“Linda has been a loyal and generous supporter of St. John’s for many years,” Dr. Gempesaw said. “She established an endowed scholarship for the benefit of our students; is a member of The Loughlin, McCallen, and Founders Societies; and has recently made a seven-figure gift to the University to support our growing cyber security program and faculty.”

Dr. Gempesaw added, “Her love for St. John’s is evident in the many tangible ways she gives of her time, talent, and treasure to our University.” 

Ms. Sanford earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from St. John’s in 1974, and her Master of Science degree in Operations Research from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She received an honorary Doctor of Commercial Science degree from St. John’s in 1998. She is a member of the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame and the National Academy of Engineering.

Ms. Sanford expressed gratitude for her St. John’s education.

“I would not have had the exciting career and life that I have had without being here at St. John’s,” she asserted.

“I majored in mathematics, and it led to graduate work in operations research, data and analytics. In today’s world, it is all about data and analytics, but it is only as good as the cyber security capabilities you have.”

She added, “It was natural for me to support this wonderful program that has been created here. The laboratory is beautiful. We have a great leader in Dr. Passerini, who has brought a whole new vision around this. What I love is that it is not just about the technical, scientific, and mathematical aspects—it is about how you solve real-world problems. That has been one of the hallmarks at St. John’s. I have no doubt that you are all going to continue to be leaders, especially in this field.”

During his welcoming remarks, Simon G. Møller, Ph.D., Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Professor, Biological Sciences, discussed the increased demand for cyber security professionals in the global marketplace and how St. John’s is striving to meet that challenge.

“At St. John’s, the College of Professional Studies has seen a steady increase in enrollment in their cyber security program, and the Sanford Family Cyber Security Lab adds an entirely new dimension,” Dr. Møller observed, estimating that by 2021 there will be more than 3.5 million cyber security positions unfilled globally, according to Cybersecurity Ventures.

Dr. Passerini spoke of Ms. Sanford as a pioneer in her industry, noting that she began her long career in IBM in 1975 as an engineer in the typewriter division, eventually ascending to the role of Senior Vice President of Enterprise Transformation. “We cannot underestimate what it meant to be a woman engineer in 1975 at IBM,” Dr. Passerini stressed. “Fast forward a few years later, she was the chief architect of a transformation that helped IBM diversify its mainframe focus and become a leaner and more dynamic business services organization.”

Ms. Sanford’s involvement with the College of Professional Studies and St. John’s has been that of champion of technological innovation, Dr. Passerini added. “She is a tech role model, and her gift will enable CPS to support more students and faculty in the growth of cyber security programs that will hopefully impact future generations of cyber technology students.”

Recent graduate Anish Bashu, a Cyber Security Systems major and cofounder of the University’s Cyber Security Club, discussed the program’s evolution. Currently studying for his M.B.A. in The Peter J. Tobin College of Business, Anish is a graduate assistant in the Cyber Security Lab.

“I never thought my involvement in the cyber security program would have grown to what it is today,” he observed. “Back when I started, we had to bring in our own laptops and equipment to do these hands-on exercises, and setup time was considerable.” He explained that this lab allows students to immediately go about the business of learning and gain invaluable real-world insights from faculty who are actively engaged in this type of work.

Anish added that thanks to the support of the Sanford family and the College of Professional Studies, “It is no longer a club, but a diverse community of cyber security students and alumni who use this lab every week to hone their skills in training sessions run by students for students. I have always said that the greatest resource for a cyber security professional is the cyber security community, and now our community finally has a home.”