Texas A&M: NSA Selects CAMPS To Participate In Reimagined Onramp II Program

A cooperative between Texas A&M University (TAMU) and three Texas A&M System (TAMUS) institutions, the Collaboration for Advancing Minority Participation in Security (CAMPS), has been selected for participation in OnRamp II, a federally-designated Education Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the National Security Agency (NSA). The CAMPS cooperative includes Texas A&M University, Prairie View A&M University, Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi, and Texas A&M University – San Antonio. Per the terms of the EPA, the NSA will provide funding and other forms of assistance to CAMPS through its reimagined OnRamp II Program, with the objective of promoting the technical health and academic caliber of a strongly diverse STEM pipeline for the NSA. CAMPS is one of only four single institution or multi-institution cooperative to be selected for participation in OnRamp II.

“Our partnership with the NSA through OnRamp II will further the university’s objectives of advancing minority participation in STEM and fostering a culture of service, whether in higher education and research or in the national security sector,” said Karen Butler-Purry, Associate Provost and Dean of the Texas A&M Graduate and Professional School and Principal Investigator for CAMPS. “Promoting diversity in STEM and in all echelons of the American security organization is a critical factor in protecting the interests of everyone in our nation.”

OnRamp II Goals

NSA OnRamp II clears pathways to security careers for talented underrepresented minority (URM) students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines. While the initial OnRamp program, begun in 2009, sought out URM students in STEM fields, OnRamp II expands the array of services offered to recipients through strategic alliances with diversity-supporting educational institutions.

Student participants will enhance their academic capabilities and pursue security research on an expedited track to employment in the NSA. OnRamp II offers scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students for academic and professional development assistance, provides internship opportunities, and gives tailored academic and career advising to help students navigate NSA procedures and processing. In May 2021, the NSA OnRamp II selection board awarded scholarships to nine undergraduate students from across the four CAMPS institutions. NSA OnRamp II scholarship participants will receive funding up to $25,000 per academic year to cover:

Tuition support and education related fees (does not include meal plans, housing or parking).
Textbook allowance (including e-books and audio books) and school supplies up to $3,000 per academic year.
Professional development allowance (including travel and conference fees, professional certifications, and leadership development) up to $2,000 per academic year.
Further benefits to CAMPS institutions include opportunities for faculty sabbaticals and contract-based NSA cybersecurity research projects.

A Partnership Based on a Commitment to Diversity

In return, the EPA Partner will demonstrate an ability to support a successful and sustainable STEM diversity pipeline. Selection criteria for OnRamp II included achieving a high rate of matriculation for URM students in STEM, improving academic performance, fostering an inclusive environment and continually pursuing diversity in all aspects of institutional operation.

Texas A&M and its partners have a stellar record in each of these categories, making the team a sound choice for participation in OnRamp II. As recipients of OnRamp II funding, each institution demonstrated the cultural competence and infrastructure to address the needs of diverse students, including those from minority groups, women and others who are underrepresented in STEM.

CAMPS institutions boast an 80.5 percent six-year graduation rate for URM students, and 21 percent of STEM degrees granted at CAMPS institutions go to URM students. Part of the National Science Foundation, the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) database indicates that Texas A&M ranks 2nd in the nation for bachelor’s degrees awarded to underrepresented minorities in STEM (NSF/NCSES, 19-304, 2019). A&M also ranked highly among institutions in total number of doctoral degrees to Hispanic (4th) and African American (12th) students over the five-year period from 2014 to 2018, according to the Survey of Earned Doctorates. In 2019, Texas A&M ranked 7th nationally on the list of Top 10 Best Cyber Security programs (Degrees 2020).

With a substantial research portfolio and record of federally-funded projects to enhance diversity, such as the NSF funded TAMUS Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), TAMUS Alliance for Graduate Education (AGEP) and NIH Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity, Texas A&M has proven its commitment to fostering excellence in STEM and removing structural obstacles that stand in the way of effective URM student research and career pursuit in STEM.

Project Leadership

Assisting Butler-Purry in CAMPS leadership as Co-Principal Investigators are Texas A&M University Computer Science and Engineering Professor Dilma Da Silva, Prairie View A&M University Graduate Studies Dean Dorie Gilbert, Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi Graduate Studies Dean Karen McCaleb, and Texas A&M University – San Antonio Vice Provost for Research and Graduate Studies Vijay Golla.

Kevin Gamache, the Chief Research Security Officer for the Texas A&M University System, will serve as Senior Personnel for the program. In his role, Gamache will inform, mentor, and assist students with applications for security clearance, specifically with NSA. Diane Hurtado, Associate Vice Chancellor, and Janelle Turner, Project Manager, for the Texas A&M University System National Laboratories Office will provide programmatic expertise on security related research and enhancing the future generation of national security workforce.

Rounding out the Texas A&M University team will be Executive Director of Strategic Research Development in the Division of Research Jorja Kimball, Assistant Dean of the Graduate and Professional School Shannon Walton, and Student Success Coordinator Isah Juranek.

Strengthening the Relationship with the NSA

Texas A&M and Texas A&M System institutions also enjoy longstanding partnerships with the NSA. The four CAMPS public universities conduct NSA-funded research or have NSA Centers of Academic Excellence (CAE) designations.

“We are honored to have been selected for the OnRamp II program by the NSA,” said Interim Provost & Executive Vice President Timothy P. Scott. “This partnership represents another achievement to increase external funding for student support and is a testament to our commitment to inclusion as a driver of academic excellence, as well as our holistic support of students from recruitment to career placement,” Scott said.