As a faculty member for over 30 years, Dr. John Sands, Professor of Information Technology and Department Chair of the Computer Integrated Technology Department, has a long track record of demonstrating excellence in teaching. That distinction coupled with being a leading national community college cybersecurity educator has led to him being named the 2019 Professor of the Year.
“I am honored to receive the Professor of the Year award. I have always believed the role of a good teacher is to create a classroom that is relevant, engaging and inspires students to want to learn,” Sands said.
Students in Sands’ classes are most impressed with his high energy and enthusiastic teaching style. His ability to explain difficult topics to make them easier to understand is one of his greatest talents, and several students have commented he makes learning fun. Many of the students who have participated in the training workshops and competitions he has led throughout the country have earned distinction and achievement. He frequently receives visits or letters from former students thanking him for impacting their lives and preparing them for a rewarding career.
“Teaching cybersecurity comes with several challenging obstacles; students who want to work in this field must leave the program with a long list of knowledge and skills. However, these graduates will be placed in work environments that may be under continuous attack from foreign actors or hackers, determined to steal data and access their systems. They must be able to work under continuous pressure and face new types of attacks,” Sands said.
To help community college students improve skills and be more competitive in cybersecurity, Sands partnered with the University of Texas, San Antonio in 2006 to design and host the first Collegiate Cybersecurity Defense Competition (CCDC) in Illinois. Sands’ team now hosts the Illinois and the Midwest Regional CCDC. In 2011, Sands and several other community college faculty designed and hosted the National Cyber League, which is in its ninth year and has grown to over 6,000 community college students. He also led efforts to partner with Cyber Aces to host the annual U.S. Cyber Challenge, a capture the flag competition.
Through the Community College Accelerated CyberCorps Pilot program, Sands helps strengthen cybersecurity education programs and improves security of information technology across the U.S. Within the last five years, Moraine Valley, through Sands’ leadership:
1) Hosted a weeklong summer Cyber Camp followed by a competition.
2) Was named the host of an elite Cyber Aces Academy, where military veterans were given a year of free high-intense cybersecurity training and certification.
3) Hosted the first Community College Cyber Summit with more than 180 educators from across the country participating.
“What we teach in the classroom must be relevant to our students. Whether we are teaching history or technology, students must be able to connect the subject to their lives and experiences they bring to the classroom. My students must be successful if I am going to be successful as a teacher,” Sands said.
Over the last 20 years, Sands and his team have been awarded over $12.8 million in federal grants from the National Science Foundation, National Security Agency and the Department of Labor, helping to establish Moraine Valley as a leader in the cybersecurity field. In 2003, Sands co-founded the Center for Systems Security and Information Assurance (CSSIA) at Moraine Valley, serving as the director/principal investigator for this NSF National Resource Center. The center pioneered the design and deployment of one of the nation’s first virtual cybersecurity teaching and learning environments, which enables students to safely learn and experience real cybersecurity technologies and products without impacting the institution’s production network. Sands led efforts to develop a national library to disseminate hundreds of exercises to be taught in the environment, and the center has trained over 3,500 college and high school faculty from across the nation
In 2010, under Sands’ leadership, Moraine Valley was one of only five community colleges in the nation awarded the Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD) from the National Security Agency. This national designation recognized programs that meet rigorous academic requirements, including knowledge and skills taught and exceptional aspects as well as excellent faculty credentials. In 2016, Moraine Valley was awarded a grant to serve as the CAE Regional Resource Center for a seven-state region in the Midwest.
Nationally, Sands was the only community college representative invited last February by Congressman Dan Lipinski, ranking member of the Research and Technology subcommittee, to present testimony to the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. He highlighted the role community colleges play in establishing a strong network of apprentice programs in the career and technology fields while still being affordable. Sands also was invited to the Polytechnic World Conference in Melbourne, Australia, to discuss the strong cybersecurity partnerships between academia, business and industry and government agencies in the U.S.
Sands is a member of the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, a nonprofit organization specializing in training and certifying cybersecurity professionals. He holds the Certified Information Systems Security Professional certification. He also is a member of the Chicago Infragard, an organization run by the U.S. Department of Justice to combat cybersecurity threats to local business and industry. Sands co-founded the Community College Cybersecurity Symposium (3CS), an annual conference for community college faculty to network and attend workshops associated with teaching cybersecurity. It was hosted at Moraine Valley in 2011 with 120 faculty in attendance. The 3CS conference now hosts over 500 participants each year and is hosted by community colleges across the country.