Scott Ball / Rivard Report
The University of Texas at San Antonio's downtown campus has secured $70 million in funding for new high-technology facilities.
During a special meeting Thursday, The University of Texas System Board of Regents approved funding for UTSA's ambitious National Security Collaboration Center, planned as a $33 million, 80,000-square-foot hub for the school's cybersecurity researchers, faculty, and students whose facilities will be co-located with private and government partners in the national defense sector.
Regents allocated $57 million for a new School of Data Science building, which will comprise 138,000 square feet of classrooms, laboratories, and research space. The new facility will house the university's computer science, computer engineering, statistics and data sciences, information systems, and cybersecurity departments as well as the UTSA Open Cloud Institute.
“The economic future and well-being of San Antonio is very much tied to big data, data
sciences, information management and technology, and cybersecurity," UTSA President Taylor Eighmy said in a news release. "By creating an ecosystem here that brings together the business strengths of our community and the research expertise of UTSA, we will establish San Antonio as the Silicon Valley-equivalent for data science, information management, and cybersecurity.
"Establishing a School of Data Science and the National Security Collaboration Center in the heart of San Antonio’s urban core will attract more critical mass to our community – more businesses, more investors, and more talent.”
Eighmy has spoken about the university's plan to create a so-called "Texas Cyber Corridor," a network of UT System institutions devoted to finding cybersecurity solutions – with UTSA to serve as an anchor.
Eighmy said in a conference call with the board Thursday that the university will work with the UT System’s Office of Facilities Planning and Construction on an “aggressive schedule” of two to two-and-a-half years. UTSA expects to announce the funding sources for the remaining $20 million of the project in the coming weeks, he said.
“Both buildings will be up and occupied within two-and-a-half years,” Eighmy told the Rivard Report after the vote. “We’ll be thorough as we go fast and we’ll be thoughtful as we go fast, but I want to have these projects be realized as soon as possible."
The collaboration center will aim to advance research, education, and workforce development to support the areas of cybersecurity, data analytics, and cloud computing. The center proposes the establishment and concentration of an ecosystem that will blend public sector, private sector, and academic partners in or near the downtown facility.
A five-story Computational Research Building comprising a cyber laboratory and cyber range, a virtual shooting range for training cyberwarriors; a data analytics laboratory; technology for cloud computing; and an innovation factory will be a centerpiece of the facility.
Federal partners will fund a center for classified research in the complex. So far, UTSA has locked down agreements with nine industry partners to colocate in the National Security Collaboration Center with 11 more corporations considering teaming up. Among its federal partners are the U.S. Secret Service, Army Research Laboratory, NSA Texas, the 24th and 25th Air Force, the FBI, and the Department of Energy National Labs. UTSA is pursuing four more agreements with federal agencies.
“I believe the only way we can move at the speed of relevance in the 21st century is to
collaborate and innovate more deeply between universities, government, and private companies in order to explore creative solutions," said Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, Commander, Air Education and Training Command, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. "The model UTSA is creating will help the entire community move forward faster together to create economic opportunity and protect national security."
National defense contractors Parsons, Raytheon, Booz Allen Hamilton, Noblis, and Accenture have signed on to the project, which has received 21 letters of support from partners as well as elected officials, such as Mayor Ron Nirenberg and U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Helotes).
The center is currently operating in 25,000 square feet of temporary space on UTSA's campus in Northwest San Antonio.
Eighmy said the decision to locate both the center and its School of Data Science-housed academic programs downtown hinged on the idea of creating a "nexus" around a topical area. The IT-related departments that would be stationed at the new school are currently sprawled out on UTSA's 725-acre main campus.
"There’s lot of focus right now ... around this opportunity to focus San Antonio on data science, IT, information management, and cybersecurity," he said. "It’s a huge opportunity for the city and a huge opportunity for the companies already in San Antonio."
No higher education institution in the state currently features a School of Data Science. Eighmy said UTSA would need to seek approval from the UT System regents and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to formalize the school.
UTSA will soon launch into the design phase for the two downtown facilities and determine their exact location on the campus.
“Today’s news is really welcome news about the Board of Regents’ investment in our visions for UTSA, the downtown campus, and our vision for the impact of the city and its economy by these first two initiatives we’re bringing forward,” Eighmy said.
UTSA enrolls about 3,500 undergraduate students and 400 graduate students in its IT-related academic programs.