Highlander Highlights: Week of February 19, 2024

Every two weeks, Highlander Highlights shares with readers some of the extraordinary research and accomplishments happening on and off campus through the tireless work and curiosity of our students and faculty. 

Cybersecurity major creates ‘a dynamic initiative’

Sam Williams

Sam Williams uses the word “dynamic” to describe his new Action Guard Project. But the adjective could easily be used to characterize the visionary Radford University cybersecurity major himself.

In 2023, Williams secured a $5,000 grant from the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative. The award has allowed the senior from Rock Hill, South Carolina, to venture into entrepreneurship, starting a cybersecurity consulting firm – “a dynamic initiative,” he said, “focused on narrowing the gap between cybersecurity education and its practical application.”

Fellow Radford students are working with Williams on what “at its core,” he explained, “is about empowering students while simultaneously offering vital cybersecurity services to local businesses, completely free of charge.”

To learn more about Williams and his business adventures, read this excellent profile at Venture Visionaries written by Radford junior Juliana Hill, another high achiever who majors in management and marketing with a focus on entrepreneurship and minors in communications. Hill created Venture Visionaries to showcase the success stories of fellow students, she explained.

“Sam Williams’ trajectory stood out,” Hill said. “Having previously collaborated closely with the Venture Lab on various assignments, Sam’s latest project caught my attention. I recognized its potential to exemplify the essence of entrepreneurial success, making it a perfect candidate for a feature in Venture Visionaries.”

Cryptography students bound for London

The technology is more than 75 years old, but that’s not dampening the enthusiasm a small group of Radford students have for their upcoming trip to London’s Bletchley Park, where during World War II, British codebreakers cracked what German engineers thought was their unbreakable Enigma enciphering machine.

“This is a World War II-themed trip centered around cryptography,” explained Neil Sigmon, a professor and chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics who teaches the London-bound students in a cryptography course. “We are going on this study abroad trip with a point of emphasis being the work of the Bletchley Park codebreakers.”

Before flying across the Atlantic Ocean, the 12 globetrotting students will visit the National Cryptologic Museum and the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Once in London, the group plans to visit the Churchill War Rooms, the HMS Belfast warship, the Imperial War Museums “and many other sites,” Sigmon said.

Later, the group will visit the D-Day invasion site in Normandy, France, and make a brief stop in Paris.

To prepare for the trip, the class has been meeting twice a week, Sigmon noted, “to learn about cryptology in general, how the German Enigma cipher worked, and to introduce how the Turing Bombe, the mechanical device the codebreakers used to break the Enigma machine, worked.”

The cryptography course has a diverse group of majors, from the expected, mathematics, cybersecurity and criminal justice – to the unexpected.

Tessa Harmon fits in the latter group. The junior from Lebanon, Virginia, is double majoring in biology and theatre. She developed an interest in World War II in a middle school history course. “Ever since, I haven’t been able to get enough information about it,” and that’s the reason, she said, she enrolled in Sigmon’s course. “Plus, he is such a welcoming person,” Harmon said of her professor.

Adam Downs chose to enroll in the course and his majors – mathematics and cybersecurity – in order to pursue a career in cryptology.

“I am especially interested in the cryptanalysis of the Enigma machine,” said the senior from Riner, Virginia. “Though it is now obsolete as a cipher, studying the processes used to break the machine can still provide useful insights in modern times. Some of the most popular encryption schemes today are based on theorems from hundreds of years ago.”

They said it

“I can confidently say that it has played a pivotal role in laying the groundwork for the success of the Action Guard Project. Radford’s emphasis on practical learning and real-world applications has equipped me with the essential skills and knowledge required to conceptualize and execute such a venture. Furthermore, the unwavering support and mentorship I’ve received from faculty members, coupled with the invaluable resources provided by entities like the Venture Lab, have been instrumental in navigating the intricate landscape of entrepreneurship. They’ve helped me secure crucial funding and refine our project proposal to align with the objectives of granting organizations.”

-          Sam Williams on the support he has received from Radford faculty and staff throughout the creation of his new initiative, the Action Guard Project.

Feb 23, 2024
Chad Osborne
(540) 831-7761