In the ever-changing cyber realm, it is imperative worldwide that universities achieve the highest standards of technological know-how and cyber defense skills. University of the Cumberlands recently received word from the National Security Agency (NSA) that the institution has earned a renewed designation as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD).

The news, though not shocking to Cumberlands administration, carries a certain weight.

Dr. Larry Cockrum, president of the university, commented, “Cumberlands is one of only three universities in Kentucky to have CAE-CD standing. It is not an easy classification to attain. We are proud of the work our IT and computer science faculty and staff have accomplished to earn this revered designation. At Cumberlands, we strive for excellence in all we do, and our faculty and staff have consistently provided the technology, expertise, and opportunities our students need to succeed.”

Per the notice from the NSA, universities which earn the national designation must “meet the increasing demands of the program criteria” with programs that will “serve the nation well.” The letter also noted that CAE-CD designated schools like Cumberlands are actively addressing “the critical shortage of professionals with cybersecurity skills” and acting as a “solution to defending America’s cyberspace.” Not only do high-quality and accessible cyber defense academic programs benefit the workforce by providing qualified professionals, but the programs also bulk up America’s cyber defense.

Dr. Donnie Grimes, CIO and executive vice president of information technology at the university, said, “This CAE-CD designation demonstrates the strength of our cybersecurity program’s academic excellence as well as its meaningful impact beyond the classroom. Our faculty work tirelessly to nurture the next generation of cybersecurity leaders, equipping them with in-demand skills and real-world experience. This re-designation allows us to continue valuable collaborations to advance the field of cyber defense through access to resources, talent programs, and research capabilities.”

Cumberlands maintains its rank among the leading cybersecurity education programs in the Commonwealth, building a highly qualified workforce equipped to protect the nation’s systems and networks. In Grimes’ view, maintaining the prestigious CAE-CD designation underscores the institution’s commitment to graduating technically skilled cybersecurity professionals.

Dr. Machica McClain, dean of computer information sciences (CIS) at the university, said, “With cyber defense needs increasing, Cumberlands has made sure it has the necessary resources to assure its students can effectively implement a security evaluation plan, carry out risk assessment, and assist in safeguarding an organization’s infrastructure. In short, this designation demonstrates our committed interest in preparing students for future careers.”

Cumberlands received its first CAE-CD designation in 2017. Since that time, it has continually revised academic programs and extracurricular opportunities to keep pace with new technologies, resources, and methodologies. New IT and computer science programs have been added to Cumberlands’ prior academic offerings, such as master’s programs in artificial intelligence (AI), cyber engineering, data science, and digital forensics; a bachelor’s program in game development; and an online blockchain certificate program. Outside the classroom, Cumberlands has made several IT and computer science opportunities available to students. For instance, through a partnership with IBM (International Business Machines) Global University, students gained access to the IBM Skills Academy, enhancing the learning environment for Cumberlands students pursuing STEM majors. In addition, Cumberlands students placed in the top one percent nationwide in the National Cyber League in July 2023. The university’s online master’s in AI was ranked one of the most affordable in the country the same year, and, back in 2022, Cumberlands hosted the Kentucky Cybersecurity and Forensics Conference, bringing the world of cyber close to home.

Dr. McClain added a special thanks to the university’s CAE taskforce, including Drs. Amelia Phillips, Jennifer Merritt, Derek Holbert, Ulrich Vouama, and Dennis Backherm, and Cumberlands’ CIS administrators, Seth Gilliam and Racheal Meadors, all of whom “played a vital role in making this re-designation possible.”

Alumni from Cumberlands’ IT and computer science graduate programs have gone on to complete competitive IT fellowships and win international awards. To learn more about the students, visit Cumberlands’ Stories page at To discover the IT and computer science programs the university offers, visit