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Newly Dedicated Sanford Family Cyber Security Lab Prepares Next Generation of Cyber Defenders

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Honoring an alumna who became one of the highest-ranking women at IBM, the new Sanford Family Cyber Security Lab at St. John’s University is named for Linda S. Sanford ’74Ed, ’98HON, St. John’s Board of Trustees Emerita, and the members of her family. Ms. Sanford—who is widely recognized as a pioneer in the technology industry—is a member of the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame and the National Academy of Engineering, and has been named one of the 50 Most Influential Women in Business by Fortune.

Celebrating her commitment to student empowerment through technology education, St. John’s formally dedicated the innovative lab, located in St. Augustine Hall on the Queens, NY, campus, in early October.

The state-of-the-art space will keep St. John’s at the forefront of educating the next generation of students who will protect our society’s digital infrastructure. The Sanford Family Cyber Security Lab 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 dedicate the space. Participating were Ms. Sanford and her daughter, Catherine Sanford-Flores ’03TCB; son, William; and son-in-law, Victor Flores ’02CPS; Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s; Simon G. Møller, Ph.D., Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs; and Katia Passerini, Ph.D., Dean, College of Professional Studies (CPS), and Board Chair William L. Collins ’76C, ’12HON.

“Linda has been a loyal and generous supporter of St. John’s for many years,” Dr. Gempesaw said. “She previously established an endowed scholarship for the benefit of our students, and recently made a seven-figure gift to the University to support our growing cybersecurity program and faculty.” Dr. Gempesaw said he believed Ms. Sanford’s vision for the value of technology in higher education would be alive and well at St. John’s for many years to come.

Ms. Sanford earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics from The School of Education at 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. Ms. Sanford expressed gratitude for her St. John’s education, noting that St. John’s prepared her for a challenging and rewarding career. “I majored in mathematics, and it led to graduate work in operations research and data analytics. In today’s world, it is all about data analytics, but it is only as good as the cybersecurity 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.”

Dr. Passerini noted that Ms. Sanford began her accomplished career at 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 cybersecurity programs that will hopefully impact future generations of cybertechnology 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 Sanford Family Cyber Security Lab.

Anish noted 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 cybersecurity students and alumni in the industry. I have always said that the greatest resource for a cybersecurity professional is the cybersecurity community, and now our community finally has a home.”