ECE Student Takes on Hundreds of Challenges — and Thousands of Competitors — to Win a CyberStart Scholarship

Student Erwin

By Rebecca E. Jones

Computer engineering major Erwin Karincic has received a SANS Institute’s CyberStart 2017 Scholarship, one of the region’s most competitive awards. Karincic placed third among the nearly 4,000 students from Virginia and six other states competing in the scholarship challenge.

Karincic, a sophomore, learned about the opportunity over the summer. He felt good about his chances when he completed the 11 qualifying challenges in less than 30 minutes. “After that there was a full competition which took longer, of course,” he said. “It was very intense. There were about 260 challenges, if I recall correctly.”

The progressively more difficult tasks included programming, forensics, cryptography, steganography (concealing messages within non-secret text or data) and testing computer systems for security vulnerabilities. “They were challenges of varying difficulty, and some of them were really difficult,” Karincic said, adding that figuring out each problem was also “very fun.”

The scholarship program aligns with Virginia’s workforce goals, which include continuing to build its robust presence in cybersecurity. In a written statement, Governor Terry McAuliffe said increasing the cyber workforce is “foundational to maintaining our position as a national leader in cyber security” and called the CyberStart Scholarship “a great opportunity to expand our talent pipeline” in this key area.

That’s a challenge the School of Engineering is eager to take on, said Erdem Topsakal, Ph.D., chair of the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“We are fully invested and highly committed to educate the next generation of engineers in our nation's most needed areas in cybersecurity and cyberphysical systems,” he said. “Erwin's success is a true testament of this commitment.”