Featured School Series; Showcasing NSA's Academic Partnerships

National Security Agency (NSA) and The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA)

Working together for more than 16 years to create the talent and tools needed to address the nation's toughest cybersecurity challenges.

  • UTSA is one of only 10 schools in the country designated as a Center of Academic Excellence (CAE) in all three distinctions - Cyber Operations, Cyber Defense, and Research.

  • 50+ UTSA graduates currently employed at NSA.

  • Top Majors

    • Computer Science
    • Electrical Engineering
    • Mathematics
    • Information Technology
    • Information Assurance
    • Criminal Justice

    Degree types

    • Bachelors (72%)
    • Masters (28%)
  • As a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), UTSA contributes to the diversity of NSA.

  • UTSA is one of 16 hiring & recruitment Campus Ambassador Program (CAP) schools across the country.

  • UTSA was recently selected as a Defense Intelligence Agency CAE in Critical Technology Studies with grant funding of $2 million over three years.

  • 11 unique research projects between NSA and UTSA.

  • UTSA Is a Center of Academic Excellence

    The National Centers of Academic Excellence (CAE) promote higher education and research in the critical area of cybersecurity. CAE schools produce professionals in the field with the expertise to reduce vulnerabilities in our national information infrastructure. UTSA is one of just 10 schools in the country that holds the CAE designation in all three areas including Cyber Defense (CD), Cyber Operations (CO), and Research (R). NSA and the Department of Homeland Security jointly sponsor the CAE-CD and CAE-R programs. The CAE-CO program is a deeply technical, inter-disciplinary, higher education program with extensive opportunities for hands-on applications.

  • NSA and UTSA Partner in Technology Research

    In 2017, NSA signed a five-year Cooperative Research & Development Agreement (CRADA) with the University of Texas (UT) System, which enables easy collaboration between NSA and any of the 14 schools in the UT system. The CRADA provides a flexible framework to address challenges in the areas of machine learning, innovative capability development, and Internet of Things. Projects or "joint work statements" (JWS) can be developed with any of the 14 schools or professors within the UT system. So far, all 11 joint work statements are with UTSA and are in the areas of augmented reality, high-speed computing, and other mission challenges. Additional JWS with other universities in the UT System are emerging as news of this effort spreads.

  • UTSA & NSA Work Together to Accelerate Workforce Degrees

    NSA has a specialized articulation agreement with UTSA that allows military and NSA civilian employees unique pathways to obtain college degrees to further their careers and contribution to the mission. Military and civilian employees can transfer credits earned at NSA's National Cryptologic School to several UTSA programs in cybersecurity and modern languages. The employees can then continue their degree through UTSA.

  • UTSA Students Participate in NSA Programs

    Students from UTSA have participated in several NSA programs in the past five years including the Cooperative Education Program (Co-op) and summer internships. The Co-op offers college students the opportunity to rotate between working full time at NSA and attending school and provides the chance to engage in real-life projects that are critical to the security of our Nation. UTSA students have also participated in the Cryptologic Summer Internship Program, the Data Center Management Intern Program, and the Information Assurance Analyst Intern Program among others. This past year, a student from NSA's High School Work Study Program enrolled at UTSA for its cybersecurity program.

The Personal Side of the Partnership with UTSA

NSA's partnership with UTSA is multifaceted. Here are some of the stories from those who have connections to both institutions-from alumni now working at NSA to those working behind the scenes to facilitate collaboration.

James Devno - Former Teacher in the Tech Trenches

Portrait of James Devno

James Devno, a former high school math teacher, is now working at NSA as a computer analyst so he can eventually take what he learns back to the classroom.

"The best teachers that I've experienced are the ones who've been in the trenches and have experienced things first hand," he said. "You could teach theory, but understanding the ins and outs make it more credible."

An avid techie who has always been interested in computers and cyber, Devno said that it was a dream of his to work at NSA. He attended a special Information Technology and Security Academy in high school, which helped him earn half his associate's degree before graduation. He eventually transferred to the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) where he majored in math with a concentration in secondary education.

He started teaching and went back to UTSA for his master's degree and was excited to learn that the school had an NSA designation as a Center of Academic Excellence (CAE).

"I thought it was great to see that my alma mater had a master's degree approved by the Agency," he said.

While teaching and getting his master's degree in information technology with a concentration in cybersecurity, Devno attended several NSA-sponsored GenCyber camps for educators. He had hoped to develop a technology curriculum for high schoolers, but it never got off the ground, he said. He did, however, teach coding and micro computing to his students.

"I wanted to make sure I could help the students have all the experience they would need to consider jobs in STEM fields," he said. "There are so many options focused in STEM."

Devno spent a summer interning at NSA as part of the malware reverse engineering team. In 2017, he made the decision to leave teaching to come to work for NSA in Maryland.

"It's the cream of the crop here. I'm surrounded by so many intelligent people. It's a great opportunity," he said. "I love it. It feels amazing to go home every day knowing I did something good. I'm serving my country."

Eventually, Devno hopes to go back to Texas where he'd like to continue working for NSA and teach cyber on the side.

"My focus is to get all the experience I can so, as a teacher, I can pass it on to my students," he said.

Calista Gonzales - Future Cyber Expert - Cryptologist in the Making

Portrait of Calista Gonzales

Calista Gonzales found her passion exploring cybersecurity at a GenCyber camp sponsored by NSA and the National Science Foundation in Texas the summer before her senior year of high school.

"I realized at that camp how much I enjoy troubleshooting," explained Gonzales. "I know for a definite fact that I want to do cyber."

As luck would have it, Gonzales had also been accepted into the High School Work Study Program (HSWS) at NSA in Texas for her senior year, allowing her to work at the Agency part time while also attending high school.

"I had no idea NSA existed," said Gonzales, now a freshman at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). "My teacher told me about the opportunity and my best friend convinced me to do it."

Gonzales enjoyed her year at NSA where she experienced a little bit of everything. She spent the majority of her time working in academic outreach, engaging with schools from kindergarten to 12th grade. She also worked on industry engagement and helped set up tours and events for visitors to the Agency.

"I was always learning something new and was surrounded by such great people," she said. "I loved it, every moment of it, and everything about it."

Although she found it different from anything she had ever experienced before - from the polygraph to walking through security every day, Gonzales said she appreciated working with such a diverse group. She felt welcomed and supported by her coworkers despite her young age.

"One coworker made sure I ate lunch every day, another made sure my schoolwork came first, and another - a woman in STEM - would always tell me that no matter what I wanted, to go get it," she said. "She helped me push myself to the absolute max."

Now Gonzales plans to major in cybersecurity and accounting and hopes to get an internship and eventually, a full-time job at NSA.

"Most definitely I will be back," she said. In the meantime, she's looking forward to trying new things in college - especially exploring the many opportunities in cyber.

Andrew Hutton - Software Engineer Securing Our Future

Portrait of Andrew Hutton

Andrew Hutton's internship at the National Security Agency was so successful, he made sure to secure a permanent position following his graduation from the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).

"I loved it. I showed up and was working on code and pushing stuff to production right away," Hutton said. "One of the things that attracted me to the Agency is that the work we do here really matters. Sometimes people's lives are on the line, and being able to protect people from tangible threats is very rewarding."

Hutton, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in computer science in 2018, became interested in technology in high school. He wanted to learn how the internet worked, so he did some research and ended up teaching himself how to code, he said.

"I worked on a social network for my high school which was cool at the time," he explained. The next step was college, so he chose UTSA, which had a reputation in cybersecurity. He had heard of NSA and applied for an internship but didn't expect to get it.

"At a place as competitive as NSA, you not only have to have the skills, you have to get lucky," he said. And he did get lucky; he was one of two hired out of a pool of 500 applicants, he said.

One experience that helped prepare him for the work at NSA was helping to launch a startup in college, Hutton explained. He and several classmates created an app for people putting on events.

"In a startup, you're faced with new challenges every day, so you have to do intense problem solving," he said. "You learn to interface with customers and relate their needs into technical requirements and actions, which is a skill you need to be successful in the workforce."

Hutton joined NSA's Texas Cryptology Intern Program the summer before his senior year. Once at NSA, he was amazed to learn how much work is done to protect national security and, also, how much more work needs to be done.

"People don't always see it, but they're being protected from threats across the world on a daily basis because of the work we do here," he said.

Hutton joined the Agency full time this past spring and is working as a software engineer. He said he wanted to do something technical but at the same time, something that mattered, and the mission of NSA fit both.

"The technical challenges we face here are unique in many ways," he explained. "You get to work on things that you wouldn't see elsewhere."

For those students interested in a future career at NSA, Hutton advised taking classes outside of their comfort zone and looking for experiences where they can apply what they have learned.

"Some of the most valuable skills I learned, were learned outside of class…when I was applying it to real world projects," he said. Technology is always evolving, he stressed, so outside experience with cutting edge technology is critical.

Lynn Ginader - Master of Innovative Collaboration

Portrait of Lynn Ginader

As chief of the Innovation Office at NSA Texas, Lynn Ginader is the force behind the collaboration between NSA and the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).

Ginader is responsible for helping to push through NSA's first-ever Cooperative Research & Development Agreement (CRADA) with the University of Texas (UT) System, which enables easy collaboration between NSA and any of the 14 schools in the system. The five-year CRADA will address challenges in the areas of innovation capability development, Internet of Things, and machine learning.

Ginader said the approach to innovation development at NSA Texas needs to be creative. "So we have to start making partnerships in order for our innovation to grow," he explained.

Ginader, who has a bachelor's degree in engineering and a master's degree in computer science, has been at NSA for 21 years and started working on innovation within the Agency several years ago using the Innovation Corps (I-Corps) model. I-Corps is transforming the process of delivering better outcomes with fewer resources across the Intelligence Community (IC), thanks to the efforts of Matt Fante and Erin Bugg.

After Ginader moved to his position in Texas, he was looking for ways to support innovation with little resources and no manpower and saw that the Army Research Lab in Texas had a "master" CRADA. He looked into the process, and with the help of NSA's Technology Transfer Program, they set the CRADA with UT in motion. The CRADA was signed in August 2017.

"Given the lack of programed resources and the needs that NSA has in the region, we have to work with other federal partners and academia in order to move forward and achieve mission objectives," Ginader said.

The CRADA allows NSA to develop projects or "Joint Work Statements" (JWS) with any of the 14 schools or professors within the UT System. To create a work statement, NSA employees must be willing to commit to working with the UT professors and students on the project. Ginader is currently mentoring a student working on a project in augmented reality that will eventually help in the mission space, he said. Other federal partners are also involved, which will increase the return on investment for NSA and the IC, he said.

Cindy Aguilar - Career Mathematician

Portrait of Cindy Aguilar

Cindy Aguilar has been a mathematician at NSA for 26 years and still enjoys decrypting data.

"The successes, getting data processed so someone can read it - that is exciting," says Aguilar, whose appreciation of math goes back to her challenging high school classes.

Aguilar received her master's degree in math from the University of Texas at San Antonio and was recruited to come to NSA shortly after. She remembers dragging her feet in filling out the application, but the recruiter continued to "ping" her to submit her application, she said. Finally she did, and she's never looked back.

"It's been fun," Aguilar says. "There is lots of opportunity for diversity of places to work and different ways to use mathematics."

Aguilar started her career at NSA as part of the Cryptologic Mathematics Program, where she was able to rotate between different offices. She has since had about 10 different positions and even spent time living and working in Canada. Now in management, she takes pride in selecting the right people to get a mission accomplished.

"Getting people connected along the path is critical," she said.

She also enjoys watching the people she has mentored reach success.

"Seeing people you mentor blossom in their career is wonderful," she explained.

NSA offers a great work-life balance and the people and work are interesting, Aguilar said. When asked if she would recommend other young math majors from her alma mater follow her path, she doesn't hesitate to answer.

"Maryland may be far from Texas, but the opportunities to use your knowledge and skills and the ability to gain new knowledge and skills while supporting an important mission for our country is very fulfilling."

John Quarles - Engaging Students in Real World Problems

Portrait of John Quarles

What happens when two augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) experts meet, one from a university with academic freedom and the other from a federal agency shrouded in secrecy? At the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), they end up collaborating in new ways.

An associate professor of computer science at UTSA, John Quarles uses the latest technology to create video games and other devices to help those in need. He focuses on augmented and virtual reality for medical training, STEM education, exercise, and physical and cognitive therapies.

Quarles was recently named UTSA 2018 Innovator of the Year, based on a number of factors including technology disclosures, patent filings, issued patents, licenses, and overall innovation and ideation. He has widely published in the fields of augmented and virtual reality and is recognized as one of the world's leading experts in the use of this technology. He has also received over two million dollars of research funding, most coming from the National Science Foundation.

Quarles also teaches on the subject of AR/VR and was the only professor to do so until this year, when NSA's Darniet Jennings arrived on campus. The two have since collaborated on a joint project, through the Cooperation Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) between the UT System and NSA.

"Besides the fact that [NSA employees] are really talented and smart people, one of the benefits of working side-by-side with the NSA is gaining insight into their core mission and practical needs, which gives us much clearer and focused ideas on how we can apply virtual and augmented reality to help them," Quarles said. "They have really opened up a new set of applications with a need for novel VR/AR solutions. This makes them very exciting to work with."

Quarles and Jennings have found a way for NSA to work with students on an independent pilot project under the CRADA which has become a blueprint for government-industry-academic collaboration. These types of independent projects can engage more students in innovative research, and help them build a career path while in college, with a better chance of being recruited by the federal government upon graduation. What a great way to build a workforce pipeline and accelerate NSA's engagement within the university.

"It is important for students interested in those careers to develop technical ability, as well as critical and creative thinking, and I enjoy the chance to help them grow those skills," he says.

For more information about NSA's academic partnerships, please send us an email.

To apply for a student program or full-time job at NSA, please visit www.intelligencecareers.gov

For more information about programs at UTSA, visit the UTSA website.