Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Wednesday that the University of Central Arkansas will receive a $500,000 grant to develop a cyber range to train college and K-12 students.
A cyber range is a dedicated computer system that can simulate a computer network. Students use the network learn in real time how to detect and fend off cyberattacks and how to anticipate unknown threats.
The grant will come from discretionary funds through the Arkansas Department of Higher Education. The range will live on UCA campus. The governor said construction of range will go through the bidding and procurement process, which could take 60 days.
This range will complement UCA's new bachelor's degree program in cybersecurity, which is now in the approval process and expected to begin accepting students in the fall of 2018. UCA and the Arkansas Educational Television Network are partnering to develop cybersecurity, coding, computer programming, computer science and other curricula in Arkansas schools.
Houston Davis, UCA president; Stephen Addison, dean of UCA's College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics; and Courtney Pledger, director of AETN, joined the governor to announce the project at the state capitol in Little Rock.
Addison said the annual operational budget for the range would be $20,000-$30,000. Industry partners will provide both instructional and financial support, he said.
Addison said about 24 work stations will be connected to the system.
"One thing we've found to be particularly effective is to use game-based learning," Addison said. "So much of the learning is done through scenarios. To date, though, the scenarios have been largely on paper. Now we'll be able to use real-world scenarios with those students and, instead of giving them printouts of traffic, they'll gain real experience of what it would be like defending a network."
Addison said his conservative estimate for enrollment in the cybersecurity degree program is 15 students. But he thinks the program will attract many more and grow rapidly.
Addison said cybersecurity is one of the fastest-growing fields, with job opportunities expected to increase in the coming years.
While the Air National Guard on Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville has its own cyber range, UCA's will be the first educational cyber range in the region, and Arkansas will be the first in the country to implement one with courses for both college and K-12 students.