U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand Talks Cyber Security at St. John’s University

April 25, 2024

St. John’s University welcomed U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for a tour of the innovative Sanford Family Cyber Security Lab at the Queens, NY, Campus and a wide-ranging discussion of cybersecurity issues and career opportunities for students.

“St. John’s is really important because you are at the forefront of training the next generation of our cyber defenders and cyber protectors,” Senator Gillibrand told a gathering of St. John’s students, faculty, and administrators including Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., President; Simon G. Møller, Ph.D., Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs; and Luca Iandoli, Ph.D., Dean, The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies.

During the visit, Senator Gillibrand encouraged St. John’s students to apply to the Cyber Service Academy scholarship program, which grants students free college tuition in return for public service in the Department of Defense (DoD). Senator Gillibrand created the Cyber Service Academy scholarship program in 2022 through her work on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and she recently secured language to allow graduates to serve in the Intelligence Community.

“These cybersecurity issues are very exciting and if you do public service, your employability afterwards is unlimited, truly unlimited,” Senator Gillibrand remarked.

St. John’s University is one of only 19 New York institutions eligible to offer the program because of its National Center of Academic Excellence (NCAE) in Cybersecurity status and its National Security Agency (NSA) designation for the Bachelor of Science in Cyber Security Systems and the Master of Science in Cyber and Information Systems. The NSA designation is awarded to institutions that offer a rigorous cybersecurity curriculum.

The Federal Cyber Service Academy scholarship includes:

  • A scholarship covering the full cost of tuition, select books and fees, a stipend, purchase of a laptop, and more.

  • Areas of study including cybersecurity, cyber operations, digital and multimedia forensics, computer crime investigations, and more.

  • A service commitment that starts after the awarding of a recipient’s degree.

  • Roles throughout the DoD and the Intelligence Community for a period equivalent to the length of a recipient’s scholarship. 

Led by Max Hergenrother, Associate Dean of Academic Technology and Pedagogic Innovation, Senator Gillibrand toured the second floor of St. Augustine Hall viewing the Design Factory, the Farella Innovation Lab before convening the discussion in the Sanford Family Cyber Security Lab.

Fr. Shanley welcomed Senator Gillibrand, thanked her for advancing student opportunities and described investments that the University is making in technology and resources for students pursuing careers in cyber security, homeland security, and related programs.

“Our undergraduate and graduate programs in Cyber Security aim to provide current and future St. John’s students with Cyber Security program training, career guidance as well as to collaboratively promote interaction with other students, faculty, and programs within St. John’s and the external Cybersecurity community.”

Dean Iandoli then shared that the Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity Systems has received accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET), the gold standard for engineering, science, and technology programs.

“ABET accreditation recognizes an academic program that meets the requirements for technical education in the field and is characterized by continuous improvement. It is a global recognition that meets international program standards.”

The Master of Science degree in Cyber and Information Security provides cutting-edge education and an immersive learning experience and is offered via in-person or online formats.

A discussion of cyber security issues featured current students describing their professional aspirations and business professionals attesting to the need for a well-trained cyber security workforce.

Tom Grech, President and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, emphasized the cyber security infrastructure needs that small businesses in Queens have and the challenges faced by not having an Information Technology staff to rely on.

“As New York City’s most diverse borough, we need to reach across all communities and demographics, harnessing the power of local institutions like St. John’s to train residents for future jobs embedded with the digital skills needed to support securing cyber infrastructure.” He added, “I would say to the young people here, don’t leave New York, we need you here.”

Stephanie Raphael, Chief of Staff at NYC Cyber Command spoke about the collaborative partnerships between all levels of government. She encouraged students to explore internships and career opportunities in the fast-emerging field.

“We are always looking for young people with new ideas and energy.”

One immediate outcome of the discussion was the need for more cyber security career fairs and forums.

Senator Gillibrand rallied the gathering stating, “Let’s do these job fairs in connection with the Cyber Academy because we want students to know this is a gateway to jobs and a free education, and they just don’t know it.”

As the formal discussion concluded participants mingled about the state-of-the-art space and exchanged ideas, experiences, and aspirations for the future.

Raymond Ramdat, a Cyber Security Systems major from Queens who will graduate in May, is the son of a St. John’s graduate and described the local and family feel of the campus.

“My local high school was a career and technical education school, so I got into computer networking and the world of information technology. From there, I visited St. John’s a few times as a high school senior and saw what they did with their extracurriculars. The SG Cyber Club allowed me to sit in on a few meetings and learn hands-on concepts that inspired me to attend St. John’s. I saw not only the club but the cyber competition team. Seeing that tight-knit group competing and spending their Saturdays dedicated to learning cyber security, I realized, ‘OK, there is a good cyber security culture at St. John’s,” and that ultimately inspired me to come here.”

Katarina Kobetitsch, a Cyber and Information Security Master student from Long Island shared her academic journey toward cyber security.

“When I was considering St. John’s, I knew they were going for the esteemed NCAE accreditation as well as ABET, which I knew were highly valued accreditations for universities. I knew I would get a great education at St. John’s, and I saw all the extracurricular activities I could be involved in to support my academic and social growth.”

The state-of-the-art Sanford Family Cyber Security Lab keeps 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.

Honoring an alumna who became one of the highest-ranking women at IBM, the Sanford Family Cyber Security Lab is named for Linda S. Sanford ’74Ed, ’98HON, St. John’s Board of Trustees Emerita, and her family.