Morgan’s CAP Center Cultivates Excellence in Cybersecurity Scholarship and Research [Online Exclusive]

General / Volume 2022 / January 2022

Most important to the CAP Center’s goals, it is now the home base of 23 students working toward the Ph.D. in Secure Embedded Systems with full funding for their graduate education.


Coming from his hometowns of Brooklyn and Queens, New York, to the world-renowned graduate program in electrical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, in the mid-1980s, Kevin Kornegay felt pleased about having earned a great educational opportunity. He also felt very much alone.

“When I arrived at graduate school, at Berkeley, they had a massive community graduate student office space with maybe a few hundred students from around the world. I walked into the room. I looked left. I looked right, looking for someone who looked like me, and there were very few of us,” he recalls. “You could count (the Black students) on one hand. So I wanted to change that.”

This model works: peer mentoring, industrial internships, industrial mentors…. We shape and form the students at every stage. We get NSA, Johns Hopkins and NIST as employers. The students get $160K a year as starting Ph.D.s.

— Kevin T. Kornegay, Ph.D., CAP Center Director, Morgan State University

Kevin T. Kornegay, Ph.D.
Kevin T. Kornegay, Ph.D.

More than a quarter-century later, Morgan State University (MSU) became the beneficiary of that passion for more Black excellence in his field. Dr. Kornegay — Kevin T. Kornegay, Ph.D. — is now Morgan’s Eugene DeLoatch Endowed Professor in Cybersecurity in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He is also the founding director of MSU’s Cybersecurity Assurance and Policy (CAP) Center, a research unit that has moved the University from obscurity to leadership in the education of Black doctoral students in the critical field of “cyber.” At Morgan’s 2022 Spring Commencement, in May, MSU became one of the nation’s top producers of African American doctorate holders in cybersecurity, when it conferred Ph.D.s on four Black candidates in Secure Embedded Systems, a degree program new to Morgan and unique in Maryland. The CAP Center aims to increase African Americans’ representation among cybersecurity analysts in the U.S., an occupation with an estimated Black population of only 8%.


Experience and Opportunity

Cybersecurity was a small niche of a promising phenomenon named the Internet, when Dr. Kornegay finished his classical training in the design and building of electronic device circuits and systems at Berkeley in 1992. But as today’s almost daily media reports about internet hacks, data breaches, cyber-extortion and cyberwarfare make clear, the field has grown enormously in importance since then. Estimated damages from cybercrime totaled $6 trillion in 2021 and are expected to rise to $10.5 trillion annually by the end of 2025, according to Cybersecurity Almanac, a publication of Cisco and Cybersecurity Ventures. With the exploding number of everyday consumer devices now connected to the “internet of things” — from televisions to automobiles to home security systems to pet feeders — the list of cyber targets seems endless. Professionals with the skills to defend against remote and physical attacks on these devices are in high demand and are well-paid.

CAP Center

After leaving Berkeley, Dr. Kornegay worked in industry to gain experience solving real-world problems, en route to his goal of becoming a university professor. At AT&T Bell Laboratories, where he had interned as an undergraduate and graduate student, he was guided by African American engineering and science greats such as physicist Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., now president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; leading research chemist James Mitchell, Ph.D.; and inventor James West. Later, at IBM, Dr. Kornegay handled high-profile duties as a research staff member. He landed his first faculty appointment at Purdue University in 1994 then served as a professor at MIT, Cornell and Georgia Tech. By the time he joined Morgan’s faculty, in 2013, he had seen a clear opportunity within the cybersecurity crisis: a chance to provide valuable skills to diverse students from underserved populations by teaching them how to protect our nation’s critical infrastructure from cyberattacks.

“Coming to Morgan, I realized it was an opportunity,” Dr. Kornegay says. “I knew how to design systems. I knew how they worked. Who better to know about the vulnerabilities in the hardware than someone who had spent the better part of their career designing and building these systems? So I set out to develop capacity and infrastructure to recruit students and train them to work in this space.”

CAP Center

Expanding Enterprise

The record shows the great benefits to Morgan and its students that have flowed from that foundational work, which began with the establishment of Morgan’s Center for Reverse Engineering and Assured Microelectronics (CREAM) Laboratory in 2014. A $1-million research infrastructure award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Secure Embedded Systems was a game changer, funding the first graduate students to work in the lab, which was physically upgraded in 2014 with $50,000 from MSU.

CAE Institution MapThe Center for Cybersecurity and Policy Assurance (CAP Center) was established in 2018 on the successes of the CREAM Lab. Today, CAP is an expanding enterprise spread across two campus buildings — the Schaefer Engineering Building and McMechen Hall — with seven dedicated research faculty; eight affiliate faculty from Morgan’s School of Engineering, School of Business and Management and School of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences; a five-member professional staff; three visiting research scientists; and two visiting faculty. CAP is a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education (CAE-CDE), designated by the National Security Agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as institutions that are elevating cyber defense proficiencies through their rigorous academic programs and training. As a result of the critical groundwork and talent development that the CAP Center has forged to address glaring shortages of proficient cybersecurity professionals, particularly within the public sector, Morgan’s CAE-CDE status was recently extended through 2027.

The Center is also a member of the exclusive, intercollegiate United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) Academic Engagement Network (AEN), which brings together 84 colleges and universities across the nation to partner with the entire national Command enterprise, creating a massive interagency network of cyber intellect. A recurring theme underpins CYBERCOM AEN’s partnership with Morgan’s CAP Center: development of a highly skilled, qualified workforce. In return, MSU students benefit from ample resources and vital access to cyber command professionals by way of applied cyber research, analytic partnerships and strategic discourse. In all, these key strategic alliances form a major financial conduit for Morgan that has brought in $5.3 million in research funding from federal agencies and industry since 2018.

But most important to the CAP Center’s goals, it is now the home base of 23 students working toward the Ph.D. in Secure Embedded Systems with full funding for their graduate education. An NSF grant of $3.2 million, awarded in June 2021, provides 24 cybersecurity scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students through the CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program. Most of the center’s doctoral students began as undergraduates at Morgan; 30% are women, and 83% are U.S. citizens. All are African American, Dr. Kornegay reports, most of them from Baltimore City or Baltimore or Prince George’s Counties.

USCYBERCOM Headquarters
Joint Force HQ-DODIN
Cyber National Mission Force
Air Force Cyber Command/16th Air Force
Army Cyber Command/ 2nd Army
U.S. Fleet Cyber Command
U.S. Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command
U.S. Coast Guard Cyber Command
Khir Henderson, Ph.D.
Khir Henderson, Ph.D.

Diverse Students

Khir Henderson, Ph.D., was one of those CAP Center students. Raised by his father in a predominantly African American neighborhood in Atlanta, he graduated from high school a year early, spent an unpleasant year at a predominantly white university, took a year off from his own education to teach at an elementary school then came to Morgan as an electrical engineering undergraduate in 2011. In May, he became one of Morgan’s first Secure Embedded Systems doctoral graduates, along with Denzel Hamilton, Otily Toutsop and Tsion Yimer.

Morgan, Henderson says, “blasted away my expectations. I was not prepared for the emotional and financial support.” Now continuing his “good experience” with Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, the employer he connected with at a Morgan career fair in 2014, he also plans to give his time and talent to the CAP Center, the unit he credits for much of his success.

Toutsop grew up in Cameroon, in a “family of teachers” who encouraged her early interest in computers. By age 16, she was teaching computer programming to other students and had a goal of earning a doctorate in an engineering field. The CAP Center at Morgan State University enabled her to realize that dream. She came to the U.S. and began her undergraduate career at Notre Dame of Maryland University, but after transferring to Morgan, she says, she found “a home.”

Otily Toutsop, Ph.D.
Otily Toutsop, Ph.D.

“My best moment at Morgan was when I joined the CREAM Lab in 2017–2018,” Toutsop says. The laboratory and the other resources of the CAP Center furthered her doctoral research, which demonstrated how hackers could gain access to specific internet-connected devices. Also through the CAP Center, she became an undergraduate researcher for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where she is working as a postdoctoral researcher now. Her long-term goal is to establish a research lab to attract more women to the field of cybersecurity.

Hamilton, like Henderson, found employment at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), where he served as an intern and now researches autonomous navigation of drone aircraft. He credits Morgan’s CAP Center, and Dr. Kornegay, with developing his expertise in that area. Hamilton grew up in Baltimore County and came to Morgan as an undergraduate seeking an authentic and inclusive experience that is more aligned with his own diversity. Morgan, he says, gave him a great cultural and engineering education, and research opportunities through the CAP Center, where Dr. Kornegay established a new lab section to enable Hamilton’s work with drones.

Like the other Secure Embedded Systems graduates, Hamilton plans to stay connected with the CAP Center, “trying to create a pipeline between Morgan and APL…,” he reports. “The CAP Center is going to be boundless. It’s going to keep growing.”

Dr. Kornegay was the dissertation chair for the cohort of four Ph.D.s.

CAP Center

Early Outreach

Michel Kornegay, D.Eng., associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Morgan, associate director of the CAP Center, and the spouse of Dr. Kevin Kornegay, is the principal investigator of another vital segment of CAP’s “pipeline”: its programs to guide more African American K–12 students to careers in cybersecurity. The Females are Cyber Stars (FACS) summer program completed its second year in July, providing 26 middle school girls from Baltimore metropolitan area public schools with a week of hands-on computer education projects guided by female engineering students from Morgan, “role models who look like them and come from the same areas,” says Dr. Kornegay, who also directs the CAP Center’s Advanced RF/Microwave Measurement and Electronic Design (ARMMED) Laboratory. A product of Baltimore City Public Schools, she came to engineering the hard way, without such role models, Dr. Kornegay admits, so she wants to provide a smoother path for young female students today.

“Studies show that females start deciding the careers they want to enter from the middle school years. So we are trying to reach out to our students early…. I want them to see the journey is possible,” she adds. “…Our goal is to develop material for other academic programs (at Morgan) to use and to propagate this model at other colleges and universities nationwide.”

Another CAP Center pipeline program begins immediately after students’ K–12 years. Pre-Freshman Accelerated Curriculum in Engineering (PACE) brings newly enrolled first-year Morgan engineering students to campus for six weeks as residents during the summer before their first semester, to begin shaping them for success. Carl White, Ph.D., special advisor to Morgan’s Office of Strategic Partnerships, leads the program and selects students from PACE — such as Denzel Hamilton and Khir Henderson — to participate in CAP.

CAP Center

It Takes a Village

Morgan has higher aspirations for the CAP Center, including an additional National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense designation, in the area of Research, and the center’s growth is essential to the accomplishment of the University’s goal to become one of the first HBCUs to achieve an R1, “very high research,” Carnegie classification, Dr. Kornegay reports. But the CAP Center’s continued success depends on something more fundamental, he says: its relationship with its students.

“We have adopted a philosophy in the CAP Center that it’s all about student success. And to help prepare that student for success in cybersecurity, we adopt an ‘It Takes a Village’ philosophy,” Dr. Kornegay says. “Every stakeholder who engages the students’ journey from bachelor’s to Ph.D. plays a significant role in their shaping and mentoring. So our industry partners are vested in student success.”

“…This model works,” he adds, “peer mentoring, industrial internships, industrial mentors…. We shape and form the students at every stage. We get NSA, Johns Hopkins and NIST as employers. The students get $160K a year as starting Ph.D.s.”

But the success of the CAP Center’s approach manifests itself even before that, as a close emotional bond between the faculty and students, Dr. Kornegay says.

“They call me Dad,” he says. “…In Africa, that’s the concept. Our communities used to be a village. So that’s the same philosophy we have here at the CAP Center. That’s why our students blossom.”

Jamal Harris

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