The newly established Center for Cybersecurity Research and Education is a glowing addition to the University and School of Information Technology. The initiative was launched in early August 2021 under the direction of Dr. Shaoen Wu, who was named State Farm Endowed Chair of Cybersecurity in 2020. The prestigious chair was established by State Farm Insurance Companies as part of a $3 million investment committed in 2016.

Wu brings to Illinois State a strong background in research and corporate engagement. Past research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Intel, Dell, and other entities.

Wu plans to increase the University’s research productivity within the field by fostering a connection between corporate stakeholders and Illinois State researchers. Such relationships are vital to sustaining the center over the long term and allowing the program to foster industry interest, attract other scholars, and provide student mentorship experiences.

One student has already benefited from such an opportunity. Undergraduate computer science major Evan Hazzard partnered with Wu in his work with OSF St. Joseph Medical Center. Wu used artificial intelligence to help OSF predict and supply COVID-19 vaccines, especially in underserved communities. Hazzard and Wu employed machine learning to analyze their collected data and presented it to nurses working to further vaccination efforts.

Hazzard appreciates the mentoring relationship he has established with Wu during their year-long partnership. “He has my best interest at heart. He has been a support for me. Dr. Wu says, ‘This is the research we’re doing; how can I help you achieve your goals?’ He’s helping a lot of students get that research experience,” Hazzard said. “Dr. Wu also holds an interest in social support. He has introduced me to a lot of different people and has helped me build connections.”

Wu working with undergraduate computer science major Evan Hazzard.

The center also enables Illinois State’s cybersecurity program to maintain its Center of Academic Excellence status. The status is a designation by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency for cybersecurity programs. “That designation is the gold standard for cybersecurity programs,” said School of Information Technology Director Dr. Traci Carte. Illinois State has held the designation since 2014.

Already a source of pride for the University, the cybersecurity program continues to impress prospective students. Thanks to State Farm’s generosity, Julian Hall boasts a new state-of-the-art cybersecurity lab. To attract additional recruits, Carte and Wu hosted a competition for high school students through the cybersecurity program. This year, they are planning an additional summer camp for high school students.

“The thing that’s great about these two events is that high school students have a chance to attend the camp to learn cybersecurity skills and then ultimately, they have an opportunity to attend the cyber defense competition to test their skills,” Carte said. “It really enriches the experience for high schoolers who think they might want to study cybersecurity in college. We hope it creates a feeder program into our cybersecurity degree.”

“We are so thankful to State Farm for providing a platform. If you think about the activities we have within the center, it also provides a bridge between employers and future employees…That’s our students,” Wu said of State Farm’s generous investment.

The center is an outstanding resource for students, staff, and stakeholders. Thanks to the efforts Wu, Carte, and the generosity of State Farm Insurance Companies, this resource continues to generate educational opportunities, research possibilities, interactive activities, and enriching programs. The center is one more way staff and programs are paving the way to success at Illinois State University.

To learn more about investing in innovation at Illinois State University, visit or contact Toni Burningham, director of development for the College of Applied Science and Technology at (309) 438-4303.