By Kat Riddler, Managing Editor

U.S. Bank awarded $10,000 in scholarships to three graduate cybersecurity students at the University of Missouri-St. Louis: David Autry, Vernon (Vii) Maurice Bishop, and Alan Alyas. Marcia Peters, senior vice president of information security at U.S. Bank, presented the awards and scholarships. The formal awards ceremony was on October 11 at 10 a.m. in 103 Anheuser-Busch Hall. Senior managers of U.S. Bank, UMSL administrators, as well as Information Systems Advisory Board members were in attendance.

UMSL holds the National Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defence Education (CAE-CDE) designation granted by the National Security Agency and the U.S. Department of HOmeland Security. UMSL is only one of two institutions with that honor in Missouri and the only one in the St. Louis region.

Professor of Information Systems and Chair of the IS Department Dinesh Mirchandani said, “Information Systems are vital to the functioning of organizations. There is, however, an acute shortage of professionals trained in cybersecurity who can help organizations secure the sensitive data stored in their systems. U.S. Bank is committed to protecting the information of its customers and giving back to society. It is thus at the forefront of developing a diverse workforce in cybersecurity by investing in the education of talented students.”

Autry was awarded a $5,000 scholarship. Autry is pursuing the Master of Science in Information Systems degree at the UMSL and the Graduate Certificate in Cybersecurity. He has a passion for technology and taught himself programming and assembly language as a youth.

He received his first computer when he was seven years old. Autry said, “I became interested in it right away. I would turn the power switch and a good old blinking white rectangular thing would come up right away and talk about its fast boot processor. I wondered what is that thing for? What does it do?”

He continued to feed his curiosity with his second computer, an Apple IIc. Autry said, “A good friend of mine in junior high disassembled computer games on that one to understand how they work. The Apple IIc had a built in disassembler so that was the easy part of it. Understanding how the code worked was a bit more of a challenge. When we figured it out that it could do things like change a choose bytes in the code so we could have unlimited lives so our little man could make it to the last level, we had motivation to understand the code.”

Autry has designed and written an application that transforms two-dimensional magnetic resonance images of a human brain into a three-dimensional model.  He plans to complete an internship in cybersecurity in service of a government agency before branching out into the field to help curb cyber threats to organizations and individuals. He has earned Latin honors distinction in his undergraduate degrees.

Bishop was awarded a $2,500 scholarship. He is pursuing the Graduate Certificate in Cybersecurity at UMSL. He is an alumnus of UMSL having graduated Cum Laude with the Bachelor of Arts in Music. He had come back to St. Louis after working as a musician in Nashville, Tennessee.

Bishop’s interest in cybersecurity stems from years of practice analyzing and processing data as well as his natural inclination towards mathematics. He ran into Alyas at a violin shop where they both worked. “We would sit and listen to Bach in the morning before the shop opened up… We would just talk about analyzing the music— what’s going on with it.”

Bishop described that Alyas “put a bug in my ear” about cybersecurity at UMSL. Bishop said, “What I loved about music was the routine, the daily get in there and go at it, and I’m finding the same thing from mathematics and music in the computer sciences and information systems types of work.”

Bishop is particularly interested in a career in penetration testing to help protect sensitive information from malicious attacks. Bishop plans to earn professional certifications in the field and to give back to society with his professional skills.

Alyas was awarded a $2,500 scholarship. Alyas is pursuing the Master of Science in Information Systems at UMSL as well as the Graduate Certificate in Cybersecurity. He is an alumnus of UMSL having earned the Bachelor of Music Performance degree. Alan believes his background in music has enabled him to become a successful cybersecurity analyst as both have taught him to practice his craft on a daily basis and to use critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Alyas finished his undergraduate and decided to come back to UMSL because he felt comfortable at the university. He looked into the Graduate Certificate in Cybersecurity and Alyas said, “I fell in love with it immediately. I applied at the department and they generously let me in that day. They made me part of the family.”

Alyas wanted to thank the professors that made him feel like family in the program and have helped him to succeed. Alyas said, “There are so many people to thank. Without them I would not be here today: Dr. Mirchandani, Dr. Khan, Dr. Dawson. They don’t just dedicate their time in class but they stay after class to answer my silly questions. They are always available via phone, email, or on weekends I can catch them at a coffee shop in the Central West End asking silly questions they probably have answered a million times, but I still need to ask them again.”

Alyas’ natural trait for understanding the behaviors and reactions of people to certain problems and situations enables him to appreciate the human and social engineering aspects of cybersecurity.

Dr. Maurice Dawson, Jr., professor in information systems, was present at the awards ceremony. He said, “All three students I know personally. Alan and David are current graduate students in both of my classes. And Vi used to come during my Sunday lab sessions to learn more about Linux, cyber security, and Python programing. I am excited that these students received the scholarships. I am working to get students to take advantage of federal funded programs, and other fellowships to further their learning.”

Autry stated the importance the scholarships provide for the three students. Autry said, “The cost of college education is becoming increasingly expensive. Many students struggle to find ways to pay for it. U.S. Bank has been kind enough to offer cybersecurity scholarships to some of the students this year.”

He continued, “Through scholarships and corporate governance like U.S. Bank, students can realize their dreams and potentials and devote more time to their academic pursuits … On behalf of the students, faculty, and staff of UMSL I would like to express our gratitude for U.S. Bank’s support and believing in UMSL.”