Mercyhurst dedicates Cyber Education Center

August 06, 2018


Cyber Education Center

Photo from CHRISTOPHER MILLETTE/ERIE TIMES-NEWS

Thursday’s dedication drew a crowd of about 250 people.

A large computer monitor in the MCPc Cyber Education Center at Mercyhurst University looks like a video game with trails of light leading to points all over the globe.

Each of those lights — and there are many — represents a known cyber threat identified over the past couple of weeks.

The lights are a reminder of the need for collective vigilance in an era of computer hacking and identity theft.

But for Mercyhurst, which held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday morning for the Cyber Education Center, the lights also represent an opportunity to advance both the university’s status as one of the leaders in the field of intelligence studies and an opportunity for Erie to build its reputation as a leader in the field of cybersecurity.

Thursday’s dedication drew a crowd of about 250 people that included former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge; U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, of Butler, R-3rd Dist.; and Jeff Pon, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Ridge, the first Secretary of Homeland Security, the man for whom the Ridge College of Intelligence Studies & Applied Sciences at Mercyhurst is named, talked Thursday about understanding both the promise and the perils of the internet.

“We live in the digital forevermore,” he said, explaining that the threats we see today are never going to disappear.

That certainty means opportunity, said Pon, who attended at the invitation of Kelly.

“If you think of the military as defending on air, land and sea, this is another front and it’s going to be a continuous thing,” Pon said.

For his part, Kelly praised Mercyhurst and President Michael Victor for developing the 8,000-square-foot center, which includes a cybersecurity lab, a security operations room and two computer mathematics labs.

“It’s an example of the leadership that’s present in our community,” Kelly said. “It’s brilliant. It’s a game-changer.”

After reading a newspaper article about 18 months ago about the activities of the Erie Innovation District, which is working to develop a cluster of businesses in Erie in the field of cybersecurity, MCPc, a national technology firm based in Cleveland, reached out to Mercyhurst.

“They wanted to know how they could get involved,” said Cal Pifer, the university’s vice president for external relations and advancement.

Ultimately, MCPc invested $1 million toward the overall construction cost of $1.5 million. With the addition of some technology costs, the overall cost of the space, located on the ground floor of the Hammermill Library, is expected to top $2 million, Pifer said.

The center was designed by Keyman Asefi, a faculty member in Mercyhurst’s Department of Interior Architecture and Design. He was given only broad directions, Victor said.

“We told him ‘push the envelope and make it funky,’ ” he said.

There’s certainly a measure of funkiness in the new center, which brings to mind a marriage of a high-tech industrial clean room and an upscale 22nd-century dance club in a space filled with sharp angles and blue and purple lights.

While much of the center will be used as classroom space, MCPc, which now has an office in the Erie Innovation District, will occupy the Security Operations room.

Rob Lavin, the SOC supervisor, said MCPc staff will hire and oversee Mercyhurst students who will work 24 hours a day to address cybersecurity threats on behalf of MCPc clients.

While the school has hired just a couple interns so far, ultimately there could be opportunities for as many as 15 analysts or interns on each of three shifts.

Andy Jones, CEO of MCPc, sees a relationship that will benefit his company, Erie and Mercyhurst.

“Our goal is a steady stream of talent that not only satisfies MCPc’s demand but every company’s need in the region for such talent. It helps keep local talent local, and it translates into companies spending less time and money on importing talent to the North Coast,” he said.

Jones said he understands that Erie has been in search for a new identity on which to build its future. He suggested Thursday that the new center at Mercyhurst might help form the foundation of that identity.

“President Victor,” he said, “you are producing very compelling talent.”

Jim Martin can be reached at 870-1668 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ETNMartin.