Teaching and Mentoring Small Grants Project Aims to Address Lack of Diversity in Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is a rapidly expanding field, with a global projection of 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs by 2025 and a current growth rate of more than double the entire employment market’s rate in the U.S.

Yet the field continues to lack diversity: Only 4% of the IT security workforce in the U.S. identifies as Hispanic, 8% as Asian, and 9% as Black. Additionally, only 24% of identify as women.

A Teaching and Mentoring Small Grants project aims to identify concrete, substantial methods for increasing diversity in cybersecurity. Actionable Items Leading to Measurable Increase in Cybersecurity Diversity, led by an interdepartmental team of SCI faculty, has three primary goals:

  1. identify and analyze barriers precluding underrepresented groups from pursuing cybersecurity education and careers
  2. identify, develop, implement, and evaluate pilot initiatives to increase awareness and remedy myths and misconceptions about the field of cybersecurity
  3. synthesize a list of actions that would inform and lay the groundwork for a measurable increase in a diversified population in cybersecurity courses or programs

Dr. Ahmed Ibrahim, a Teaching Assistant Professor in the Department of Informatics and Networked Systems, works on this project alongside Leona Mitchell, a Professor of Practice and Director of the Professional Institute at SCI; Dr. Chelsea Gunn, a Teaching Assistant Professor in the Department of Information Culture and Data Stewardship; and Dr. Sherif Khattab, a Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science.

“We got the idea for this project after noticing the enormous discussion about how the lack of diversity in cybersecurity is affecting the field, whereas no discussions were taking place about a clear set of ways to tackle this challenge,” said Dr. Ibrahim.

The project is part of the SCI Teaching and Mentoring Small Grants program, a new program within the school which funds projects that develop curricular resources and strengthen ties between different parts of the school in key areas. During the 2021-2022 academic year, the program focused on ethics, diversity, and mentoring for its projects.

To gain insight into potential barriers for underrepresented groups to enter cybersecurity and actions to increase diversity in the field, the project’s team hosted two focus groups and three lectures centered on addressing diversity in cybersecurity across educational stages: high school, college, and industry.

The team also conducted an online survey, gathering more than 600 responses, and are currently analyzing the data. After analysis, the team plans to publish their findings.