GCU's culture embraced at rebooted Cyber Center

Julian Vega, a senior IT major with an emphasis in cybersecurity, configures a range network at Grand Canyon University's Cyber Center of Excellence. The hands-on cyber range is now being fully operated by GCU and Grand Canyon Education in association with its partner, the Arizona Cyber Threat Response Alliance. (Photos contributed by Joseph Urbaszewski)

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau

Peek into Joseph Urbaszewski’s office at the Grand Canyon University Cyber Center of Excellence and you’ll see a green screen – and it’s not just there for a pop of color.

On any given day, you might just spy Urbaszewski – “Urbz” for short – throwing out terms like social engineering, ethical hacking or raspberry pi (no, it’s not a delicious confection but a nifty computer the size of a credit card) as he helms a remote demonstration for students around the world.

It’s something Urbaszewski, one of the center’s two cyber range coordinators, actually has done. He teaches students techniques in the burgeoning field of cybersecurity, right there from the comfort of his office, such as a recent demonstration on network forensics that included a student from Switzerland.

Cyber range coordinator Eric Roberts conducts an interactive web-based demonstration for a high school in central California.

“No college offers that,” said fellow cyber range coordinator Eric Roberts of the Cyber Center’s state-of-the-art system, which allows him and Urbaszewski to remotely lead demonstrations for students in far-flung places around the world.

It is just one of the innovative things going on at the Cyber Center of Excellence as it gears up for an open house for campus students and employees from 3-6 p.m. Tuesday and for the first CyberSaturday from 10 a.m. to noon March 9 for high-schoolers – the first in a series of monthly CyberSaturdays (the next ones after that are April 6 and May 4).

The cybersecurity learning center, located in GCU's Innovation Center (Building 66) at 27th Avenue, isn’t new to the University. It's where GCU’s students have gone for training since the fall of 2017 to fight data breaches, identity theft and other cybercrime. 

But these days, the hands-on range and cybersecurity showcase, chock-full of laptops, servers, monitors and other equipment, is now being fully being operated by the University and Grand Canyon Education -- GCE IT has been integral in making the range what it is today, said Roberts -- in association with its established partner, the Arizona Cyber Threat Response Alliance.

“The biggest difference is the code of conduct. We wanted to emphasize GCU’s culture here. We wanted to encourage that ‘Hackers with Halos’ concept,” Roberts said of the recent changes to the range, which embrace GCU’s approach to hacking -- to protect and defend. “Our motto is to serve, protect and educate. Everybody who walks into the range has to follow that code of conduct.”

Katherine Urrutia, technology project coordinator, said not only has GCU’s campus culture been integrated into the cyber range but “we’re also incorporating that ethical portion” as far as embracing that 'Hackers with Halos' approach.

GCU cyber student worker Steven Faulkner (left) and GCE information security intern Christian Taillon (right) meet with cyber range coordinator Eric Roberts (center) at the range.

Beyond those operational changes, the Cyber Center is continuing to meet the needs of students who are training for cyber industry careers.

“Our students are here every day,” Roberts said.

They drop by the range, manned not only by Roberts and Urbaszewski but by about a dozen volunteers, to take apart and put together servers, learn how to crack passwords, clone keycards and break into networks so that, ultimately, they’ll know how to fight the bad guys who are so adept at those cybercrimes.

And they aren’t the only ones who use the center.

GCU and GCE Information Technology staff, such as IT student workers, train there, as do outside law enforcement entities and other members of the community who want to sharpen their cyber skills.

While Urbaszewski and Roberts have headed off campus to helm demonstrations at high schools in the area, lately they've been spending most of their time developing the range and doing what they do best -- teaching GCU students and serving as a valuable training resource for the cyber community.

Urrutia is quick to point out how successful the range has been in sparking interest in cybersecurity careers for hundreds of students, including those who weren’t certain what the job entails until they participated in a hands-on demonstration.

“The cyber program has become one of our fastest-growing programs in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology,” Roberts added.

IT/cybersecurity Professor Dwight Farris' students delve into a lesson at the range.

That growth is just one sign of how technology education has become an integral part of the University, which graduated its first computer science cohort in April 2018, will graduate its first engineering cohort this April, added an online master’s degree program in cybersecurity in 2017 for those on the technology track, and also continues to evolve its cyber training center.

At the March 5 open house, Cyber Center staff and volunteers will conduct presentations every half hour from 3-6 p.m. Students and employees can jump in and do a little wifi hacking, password cracking and other activities.

Afterward, the team will set its sights on the summer as it prepares for an ethical hacking summer camp in June for high school juniors and seniors. They’re also putting together a public-facing calendar so the community can see when a volunteer will be manning the range – and when they can come in and use the facility.

With a donation team in place to help secure donations of equipment and funds, Roberts is hoping the range will acquire more resources to do even more as it continues to evolve.

Urbaszewski, meanwhile, will be checking the green screen in his office for the next remote cyber demonstration: “We’ve got Alaska coming up,” he said, smiling.


What: Cyber Center of Excellence open house

Where: In the GCU Innovation Center (Building 66) at the 27th Avenue complex

When: 3-6 p.m. Tuesday

Contact GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.


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Jesus taught his disciples, saying: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the law and the prophets." (Matthew 7:12)

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