Antonia Boadi: Preparing Computer Science Students for Careers in Homeland Security
Computer science lecturer Dr. Antonia Boadi has been awarded two grants totaling more than $1 million from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop programs that prepare undergraduate and graduate students at California State University, Dominguez Hills who are majoring in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) for homeland security-related careers. The grants will be administered under the umbrella of the CSU Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence (CSU-ACE). Boadi is the director of the CSU Dominguez Hills chapter of the system-wide consortium of programs designed for students interested in careers in intelligence.
Both grants are through DHS’s Scientific Leadership Award for Minority Serving Institutions grant program. The first grant for $754,668 will be used to expand the computer science department’s existing Homeland Security Science Technology and Research Training Undergraduate Program (HS-STARTUP). The second grant of $249,987 is for the creation of the Network-Distributed Multi-Agent Decision System (NOMADS) initiative.
HS-STARTUP currently focuses on getting high school and community college students interested in majoring in one of the STEM fields. The new grant will be geared toward current undergraduate students at CSU Dominguez Hills. The grant will allow Boadi and the department to develop coursework related to the use of computer-based decision support systems (DSS) in emergency response, airport security, border security, cargo security and infrastructure protection applications. In addition, a Homeland Security Research Cluster will be created, providing students with opportunities to perform and present scholarly research not only at conferences but also to K-12 students during outreach activities.
The NOMADS initiative will add a homeland security component to the master’s degree program in computer science. Graduates will conduct research on game theory algorithms in the development of policies for human and robotic agents patrolling airports, performing border patrol or protecting critical infrastructure.
Boadi says that the curriculum for STEM courses related to homeland security has grown at CSU Dominguez Hills due to the university’s close alignment with initiatives of the Department of Homeland Security, including CSU-ACE, the Center for Excellence in Knowledge Management & Computational Science, the Computer Security Research Laboratory and the homeland security track of the undergraduate computer technology program.
“Our faculty strives to provide our students with rich classroom and experiential opportunities,” she says. “The new homeland security initiatives are synergistic with the research and curricular infrastructure in our computer science department. We have also partnered with researchers at the USC Homeland Security Center of Excellence, the first Center of Excellence established by the Department of Homeland Security. As a product of both CSU Dominguez Hills and USC, it is my desire to establish a pipeline of students into a doctoral program in computer science or engineering.”
A CSU Dominguez Hills alumna who double majored in computer science and math, Boadi began teaching at her alma mater in 2000. She holds two master’s degrees in electrical and computer engineering and a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California.
Boadi says that as the offspring of a university professor and an elementary school teacher, she had never intended to become an educator and entered the defense industry after graduating from CSU Dominguez Hills. When she completed her first master’s degree in engineering, Garry Hart, her former math professor at Dominguez Hills, asked her to return to campus to teach a course. Although she initially did it out of respect for her mentor, she found she enjoyed teaching.
“I will never forget the event that changed my life,” Boadi recalls. “One day, I noticed that a small crowd had gathered outside the window of the room where I was lecturing. When I went outside to find out if something had happened, I was told that I was the focus of the crowd’s attention. The spectators had never seen an African-American woman teaching mathematics. I abandoned my industry job shortly after that in order to pursue my doctoral studies.”
Boadi was hired as a lecturer in the computer science department while still in graduate school at USC. Shortly after joining the department, she established the Partnership of Women Excelling as Scientists and Scholars (PROWESS), an initiative to increase the representation of women in scientific fields.
Boadi says that the member agencies of CSU-ACE, which include the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the FBI, actively recruit students from all disciplines throughout the CSU because of the diversity of language, culture, age and ethnicity that characterize its student population.
“Federal research sponsors, especially those agencies in the intelligence community, make a strong business case for diversifying the workforce,” Boadi says. “In order to maintain our ascendancy in the innovation economy, the United States must draw upon the creativity of all of our citizens. In addition to being the largest university system in the United States, the CSU system can provide the federal and private sector with a [diverse] pool of employees.”
Boadi says she has worked with numerous students at CSU Dominguez Hills who embody this diversity, including Deisi Ayala, whose research is related to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in border security; Maria Gutierrez, a pre-med student who is interested in protecting the nation from biological threats; and Nate Nikotan, who is engaged in research related to grid computing.
As a former minority student and director of the CSU Dominguez Hills chapter of CSU-ACE, Boadi says that she is honored to be able to introduce students to the Department of Homeland Security and to career possibilities for them in the intelligence community.
“My desire is that my ceiling of achievement should become their floor,” Boadi says.
- Amy Bentley-Smith and Joanie Harmon