Towson University partners with Maryland National Guard to foster workforce development in cyber security

After working together informally for more than a year, Towson University and the Maryland National Guard have signed a formal agreement to collaborate on a range of activities, from military appreciation programs at campus sporting events to training in cyber security for guardsmen and students.

Towson University President Kim Schatzel and National Guard Maj. Gen. Linda Singh signed a memorandum of understanding at midcourt of SECU Arena before Towson’s men’s basketball game Saturday against Elon University. Towson honored service members during the game.


“The great thing about the MOU is that is gives everybody in both organizations [a reason] to continue with our collaboration,” said Will Huff, deputy athletics director for Towson University. “It just formalizes a process that has achieved success, but now it just gives everybody a focal point.”

Huff said scholarships in memory of fallen service members planted the first seeds for the partnership. In addition to hosting guardsmen at athletic events, Towson has invited soldiers to discuss career options in the Guard through classes, student clubs and events.


The institutions have also hosted training events, such as pairing nursing students with National Guard medics to prepare first responders for mass casualty situations. They plan to grow those initiatives under the MOU.

“I brought up the idea of, let’s take this relationship with the Maryland National Guard well beyond athletics,” Huff said.

He said Towson’s cyber security program was a natural fit.

“We thought that there were these natural touch points.”

National Guard Col. Charles Kohler said the guard has been participating in military appreciation events at Towson for several years and will continue to do so.

“Hopefully that will help lead to more exposure for the National Guard,” Kohler said.

Since cybersecurity courses emerged more than a decade ago, Maryland colleges have led the nation in this burgeoning field of academia. The techie groundswell has given rise to novel courses, cybersecurity dorms in College Park and plans for network-insulated classrooms in Annapolis.

The partnership is part of Towson’s BTU (Baltimore Towson University) program, which engages students with organizations in Greater Baltimore.

Towson is one of 16 universities in the country recognized by the National Security Administration as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education. Towson and the National Guard now are working to identify soldiers looking to further their cyber security education.

“These are people whose day job is IT or information systems or computer science, and that’s why they do this with their weekend duties with the guard,” said David Vanko, dean of Towson’s Jess and Mildred Fisher College of Science and Mathematics. “Our hope is that a bunch of them … will be wanting to matriculate here.”

The institutions are early in their talks on expanding their cyber security partnership, and ultimately hope to contribute to the development of a Maryland Cyber Center of Excellence.

“We are kind of hoping and offering to be the anchor institution for academia’s involvement and really whatever it is they need for us to contribute,” Vanko said.

Numerous businesses is Maryland's growing cybersecurity industry were founded by former government workers or government contractors and count such workers among their current and prospective employees. The state's proximity to the federal government and its concentration of federal workers, especially those working in intelligence, security or defense roles, has created a unique pipeline for cybersecurity companies.

Huff expects the university and National Guard will spend the next several years formulating collaborations.


“We want it to be an interdisciplinary activity where the guard has expertise in cyber capabilities — maybe give[s] some practical examples to students,” Huff said. “Sometimes when you’re going through academic rigor it’s hard to understand the context of your work.”

Schatzel said she’s looking forward to expanding the partnership through increased education, cyber training, experiential learning and community outreach for both students and soldiers.

“Towson University’s partnership with the Maryland National Guard strengthens Maryland’s cyber security infrastructure and creates opportunities for TU students and guardsman,” she said in a statement. “We are proud to work alongside the Guard to support the region’s communities and economy as an anchor institution for Greater Baltimore.”

The next Military Appreciation Day at Towson is March 17, when Towson’s men’s lacrosse team will face off against Duke University.

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