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ADELPHI, Md., Feb. 26, 2018 – A team of graduate and undergraduate students from University of Maryland University College (UMUC) has advanced to the final round of the 2018 National Cyber Analyst Challenge (NCAC). The competition was created in 2015 by Lockheed Martin and Temple University’s Institute for Business and Information Technology (IBIT), which also administers the competition annually, to help fill the ever-growing need for cyber analysts. It is sponsored by Leidos, NBCUniversal, Vanguard and Pfizer.

The UMUC cyber competition team (the Padawans), led by its academic advisor Jesse Varsalone, an associate professor who teaches Computer Networks and Cybersecurity at UMUC, was one of 10 university teams selected to compete in the 2018 NCAC finals. The nine other participating schools in alphabetical order are Brigham Young University, Carnegie Mellon University, Howard University, Iowa State University, Pennsylvania State University, Syracuse University, University of Alabama at Huntsville, University of New Haven, and Villanova University.

UMUC cyber-team members include college seniors Kyle Jackson and Alex Barney, both active-duty Air Force; Joy Huggins, senior, and active-duty Navy; and juniors Leonid Burlachuk and Robert Webb. They and fellow competitors were scored by a panel of industry and technical experts and managers on presentation, how well they analyzed and solved problems, and whether they employed appropriate tools and demonstrated relevant technical skills in their problem solving.

The UMUC team passed Phase 1, will advance to Phase 2— advanced cyber training—and compete in the Phase 3 finals held on April 12 and13 at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The UMUC cyber competition team will receive the Silver award of $5,000 for advancing. Phase 3 offers a $20,000 top award.

“Advancing in back-to-back NCAC competitions demonstrates our commitment to promote technology literacy and help students pursue careers in cybersecurity,” said Varsalone. “Competitions like the NCAC provide our students with a unique opportunity to gain the problem-solving and analytical skills that most employers require,” he added.

Now in its third year—NCAC did not host a competition in 2017—the NCAC interdisciplinary competition includes undergraduate and graduate students studying information systems, computer science, and engineering. It encourages the development of strategic skills involving analysis, threat identification, and mitigation planning.

As a tune-up to the NCAC Phase 3 finals, on March 10 the UMUC cyber team participated in and won a capture-the-flag competition sponsored by Parsons Cyber, the security division of Parsons, a global engineering, construction, technical, and professional services firm. UMUC’s winning team included current student Andrew Vallere and alumni Rick Hidalgo and Antonio Punturiero. Team members were graded on a wide range of skills, including network forensics, hacking, cryptography, code analysis, penetration testing, malware analysis and reverse engineering.

About University of Maryland University College

UMUC is a world leader in innovative educational models, with award-winning online programs in disciplines including biotechnology, cybersecurity, data analytics, and information technology that are in high demand in today’s increasingly technical global workplace. UMUC offers open access with a global footprint and a specific mission—to meet the learning needs of adult students whose responsibilities may include jobs, family and military service. For more information about UMUC, visit

About the National Cyber Analyst Challenge (NCAC)

The National Cyber Analyst Challenge (NCAC) is a joint initiative by Leidos, NBCUniversal, Vanguard, Pfizer and the Institute for Business and Information Technology at Temple University to support the development of the best students pursuing cyber-related degrees in the top cyber programs. NCAC’s model emphasizes student development through competitions that focus on strategic skills involving cyber defense, risk analysis, threat identification, remediation, and communication.