Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced a $500,000 grant from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education will be provided to the University of Central Arkansas to help pay for a fully functional dedicated cyber range for educational training during a news conference Wednesday at the state capitol.
The tool, which is a first-of-its-kind operation in high tech cyber security training, will be housed at UCA and is a complementary initiative to support computer-science education in Arkansas.
A cyber range is a dedicated computer system that can simulate a computer network and through its use, students will learn how to identify a cyber-attack and defend against it.
"The cyber range means UCA will have state of the art technology that will be available through AETN to Arkansas students, both in high school and college," Hutchinson said. "This represents the next step in our computer science initiative; one which I know will keep Arkansas as a national leader in technology education."
He said as a result of the investment, UCA will be one of only a few institutions in the country with a cyber range.
"UCA’s partnership with AETN is unique and will allow broader access to the cyber range by students and educational partners across Arkansas," Hutchinson said.
While cyber ranges have long been utilized for the nation’s security matters, today’s announcement means students in Arkansas will have access to that same technology for the very first time.
In addition, this will be the first educational cyber range in the region and Arkansas will be the first in the country to implement a range with higher education and K-12 curriculum plans at the range’s foundation.
Hutchinson joined UCA President Houston Davis, Courtney Pledger, director of the Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) and Stephen Addison, UCA’s dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics for the announcement.
"This is another opportunity for students at UCA to gain real-world experience and to develop and enhance skills needed in today’s ever-changing technological world," Davis said. "We are appreciative of the support from Gov. Asa Hutchinson and his office, as well as his efforts to shift the landscape around computer science and technological education in Arkansas."
Also announced Wednesday was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between UCA and AETN creating a partnership to develop cyber security, coding, computer programming, computer science and other curricula in Arkansas schools.
"AETN is committed to computer-science education for Arkansas students," Pledger said. "Our education team is enthusiastic to partner with UCA on cyber security training; we’re eager to use our online media tools through this initiative to prepare students for opportunities in future-facing technologies."
UCA’s interdisciplinary bachelor’s in cyber security is expected to begin in fall 2018 and will be supported by the UCA College of Business, College of Liberal Arts and the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.
"We proposed bringing a cyber range here to UCA in support of our developing a cyber-security degree program," Addison said. "With the cyber range, we will be able to inject viruses onto the range without putting a free-roaming virus on the internet. Students will be able to learn cyber security in real-time systems."