Booz Allen Hamilton project lead Jason Rauck demonstrates cyber centurion on behalf of the 25th Air Force.
Booz Allen Hamilton project lead Jason Rauck demonstrates the Cyber Centurion virtual reality technology last month at the launch of the University of Texas at San Antonio's National Security Collaboration Center. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The University of Texas at San Antonio on Friday formally launched its National Security Collaboration Center – a high-tech nexus of U.S. Department of Defense contractors, intelligence agencies, cyberwarriors, and academic researchers.

Housed on the third floor of the North Paseo Building on UTSA’s Main Campus, the center has been operational since October, occupying about 20,000 square feet. Many of the center’s 32 private-sector and federal partners – including such entities as the National Security Agency Texas, the 24th and 25th Air Forces, Booz Allen Hamilton, and IPSecure – have already moved into the temporary home for the center.

By 2022, UTSA plans to build a $33 million, 80,000-square-foot facility in downtown San Antonio east of the university’s Downtown Campus. The building also will house a new School of Data Science.

“You all are a remarkable group today,” UTSA President Taylor Eighmy said to the attendees of an open house event for the formal launch. “It’s rare to see such a strong mix of government agencies, private-sector companies, and academics all congregating around a shared purpose.”

Next steps include securing additional federal partners, said Bernard Arulanandam, the university’s interim vice president of research. Its development of the center demonstrates the university’s ambitions as a research institution, Arulanandam said. UTSA aims to become a tier-one research university.

“We want to be the premier research university for the city of San Antonio,” he said. “We want to make it happen, and we want to make it happen very soon. San Antonio deserves a world-class university, and we’re going to be it.”

Launching the center has helped UTSA garner more than $3 million in research funding, Arulanandam said.

The university used its open house event Friday to introduce its partner entities, UTSA faculty, and members of the press to the center. Laboratories, featuring such technology as virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and data analytics, were on display at the event.

Attendees donned virtual reality headsets to test-drive virtual reality software developed by Booz Allen Hamilton to help train cybersecurity professionals. The VR program renders cybersecurity incidents in 3D. Chris Stafford, Booz Allen Hamilton senior associate, explained the defense contractor has since sold the technology to the U.S. government. The VR simulator for cybersecurity will remain a fixture inside the new collaboration center and will be accessible to UTSA students, Stafford said.

The university is in the midst of a national search to find a director for the center and School of Data Science. That hire is expected to be made by May, Eighmy said.

As for the permanent home of the center – which will be one of the anchors of the soon-to-be-expanded UTSA Downtown Campus – “it can’t happen soon enough,” Eighmy said.

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.