The Texas A&M University at San Antonio's newly constructed Science and Technology Building.
Texas A&M University-San Antonio has hired Linda Schott as interim president. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Texas A&M University-San Antonio students taking classes in science and technology will do so in a new $63 million building this fall semester.

Faculty and administrators on Friday moved into the 140,000-square-foot facility, which will be home to the university’s STEM departments, including a growing computer science program.

About 300 students are on their way to earning degrees in computer science and cybersecurity, university officials said.

One of just a handful of National Security Agency-certified institutions, A&M-San Antonio’s cybersecurity program offers an NSA cyberdefense certificate to any student completing coursework in one of the computing and cybersecurity department’s three undergraduate degrees: bachelor of science in computer science, bachelor of business administration in computer information systems, or bachelor of applied arts & sciences with IT concentrations.

San Antonio is already home to the second-largest concentration of cybersecurity professionals in the nation (Washington, D.C. is first), but the university – along with other higher education institutions – aims to inject more cyberdefenders into both the workforce and the armed forces.

“Our goal is to widen the pipeline to feed that,” said Akhtar Lodgher, who heads the computing and cybersecurity department.

Lodgher said A&M-San Antonio is working to prepare students for careers in cybersecurity beginning at the middle school level – department officials have been introducing computer science concepts to students at area secondary education schools. But breaking down perceived barriers to entry will be key, as program leaders work to enroll underrepresented groups in STEM.

Designated as a Hispanic-serving institution, the university’s student population is 72 percent Latino, and more than three-fourths of those enrolled are first-generation college students.

The university also serves 17 percent military-connected students – or those who are active duty, veterans, reservists, in the National Guard, and members of military families.

But the perception that cybersecurity is a field that requires a high degree of computational ability sometimes thwarts efforts to cast a wider net. Another aspect of the computing and cybersecurity department’s mission, therefore, is to increase awareness about cyberthreats campus-wide .

“Cybersecurity is for everybody,” Lodgher said. “Cybersecurity is not only for computer folks. … Cybersecurity affects everybody.”

He said San Antonio high school students who decide to pursue a career in cybersecurity can benefit from the deep well of job opportunities available locally and with a starting salary in the range of $65,000 to $75,000. The average cybersecurity professional earns an annual salary of $116,000, or three times the national average, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Beginning this academic year, A&M-San Antonio will be one of nine Facebook-sponsored institutions availed to the company’s hands-on training in combating cyberattacks. Students who go through the program receive a guarantee that Facebook will look at their résumé, Lodgher said.

Next fall, the university – which became a four-year institution in fall 2016 when it enrolled its first freshman class – will begin offering a master’s degree in computer science.

“Our end goal is to educate the next generation of cyberwarriors,” said David Perryman, director of marketing and communications. “These graduates will help defend our national security infrastructure as well as individuals and businesses from the growing number of cyberattacks waged by other nations and organizations.”

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez

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