SRU’s C2AC thriving as students gain experience in cybersecurity industry


People working on a mainframe computer

From left, Alex Gessinger, a 2019 Slippery Rock University graduate with a degree in computing, works with Nitin Sukhija, associate professor of computer science, on SRU’s high-performance computer cluster. Sukhija is director of SRU’s Center for Cybersecurity and Advanced Computing which has provided research opportunities for SRU students like Gessinger.

Nov. 23, 2020

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Slippery Rock University's Center for Cybersecurity and Advanced Computing, known as "C2AC," is not a physical location comprised of bricks and mortar. Rather, the C2AC is an online resource and interdisciplinary collaborative that is built on the research and career development activities of SRU students. Since the C2AC was launched in 2018 to address topics related to cybersecurity and high-performance computing, SRU students have been fulfilling the center's mission through collaborative research and interdisciplinary academic efforts.

"We're encouraging students to be mentored and to participate in HPC and cybersecurity research and events, and so far, they've had tremendous experiences that are rare for undergraduate students," said Nitin Sukhija, associate professor of computer science and director of the C2AC. "We have a new bachelor's degree program in cybersecurity, but what's putting SRU's program on the map is how active our students are in national and international conferences and conducting research with the top HPC laboratories in the country."

The following are highlights of SRU students through the C2AC:

  • More than 550 students have participated in five Cyberspace Events, which are campuswide, collaborative events featuring SRU students from multiple departments, such as computer science, homeland security and military science presenting case scenarios, software demonstrations and applications related to cybersecurity. The events also include invited speakers from the cybersecurity industry and academic and government institutions.
  • Five undergraduate students have worked in a faculty research program at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California. Berkeley Lab, home to the second most powerful supercomputer in the U.S., is a multiprogram national laboratory managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.
  • Cory Haser, a 2019 SRU graduate with a degree in computing, conducted research at Berkeley Lab developing augmented and virtual reality applications that can help high performance computing data centers defend against cyberattacks. Haser was the recipient of multiple grants, including SRU's Faculty Student Research Grant, and the Summer Collaborative Research Experience grant program.
  • Alexander Gessinger, a 2019 SRU graduate with a degree in computing, and Brooklynn Hauck, a senior computing major from Montoursville, were accepted into the Research Experiences in Computational Science, Engineering and Mathematics program at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in 2018 and 2019 respectively. The program is a 10-week research experience for undergraduates through a partnership with the University of Tennessee and ORNL's Joint Institute for Computational Science, the National Institutes of Computational Sciences, the Innovative Computing Laboratory and the National Science Foundation. While on site, Gessinger and Hauck learned from scientists and professors how to conduct research projects using high performance computers.
  • Sukhija and three SRU students are also part of a team accepted by the JICS at the University of Tennessee to participate this fall in the NSF CyberTraining LAPENNA program, which stands for Linear Algebra Preparation for Emergent Neural Network Architecture. They were among six college teams selected to work on projects in numerical mathematics, linear algebra software, data-driven methods and machine learning tools to tackle day to day problems in data science applications. The team included Drake Butz, a senior computing major from New Castle; Michael Wilczynski, a junior computing major from Butler; and Joshua Malone, a junior computing major from Beaver.
  • Dustin Parrish, a senior cybersecurity major from Valencia, was selected to work on a project through XSEDE EMPOWER this fall. The apprenticeship program is funded by NSF. A proposal submitted by Sukhija was one of 24 projects accepted into the program. Mentored by Sukhija, Parrish will work 8-10 hours per week this semester and earn up to $1,400 on a project titled "Predictive Analytics for Extreme-Scale Scientific Computing Integrity using Provenance Data."
  • Several SRU students received research scholarships, including Shane Smith, a sophomore cybersecurity major from Pittsburgh, who was awarded an Information Security Studies Scholarship by organizers of the Three Rivers Information Security Symposium.
  • SRU students presented research at Practice & Experience in Advanced Research Computing conference in 2018 and 2019, assisting with the organizing the Workshop on Best Practices for HPC Training and Education; the SC19 and SC20 conferences, which are international conferences for high-performance computing, networking, storage and analysis; and the MEDES 20, the International Conference on the Management of Digital EcoSystems.
  • Alyssa Jedry, a 2020 SRU graduate with a degree in computing, and Jenna Josselyn, a sophomore cybersecurity major from Irwin, were accepted in Women in Cyber Security Conference student volunteer program, receiving scholarships for lodging and conference registration. Kunj Champaneri, a junior computing major from Sewickley was accepted in similar volunteer programs for the SC19, SC20, PEARC20 conferences. The SC is the International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis, and PEARC is the Practice & Experience in Advanced Research Computing conference.
  • SRU students are also active in computing competitions. Two teams involving six SRU students placed first and second in the Drone Wars Competition, an event hosted by Bloomsburg University and sponsored by the U.S. Army where participants operated an unmanned aircraft system through an obstacle course in the shortest amount of time. Champaneri; Joshua Gearhart, a sophomore cybersecurity major from Shippenville; and Devin Heinl, a sophomore cybersecurity major from Glenshaw, were accepted to participate at the U.S. Department of Energy's CyberForce Competition, where teams of college students defend cyber systems of simulated critical infrastructure against threats modeled on those faced by the energy sector.

As SRU's cybersecurity program continues to flourish, the program will seek designation from the Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education. The Cyber Defense Education Designation is part of a program sponsored by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to reduce vulnerability in national information infrastructure by promoting higher education and research in cyber defense and producing professionals with cyber defense expertise.

For more information about SRU's C2AC, visit

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 |