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Villanova Engineering Dedicates New Cyber Physical Systems Security Laboratory

Nicholas Piazzola '68 EE
Nicholas Piazzola '68 EE

The College of Engineering recently unveiled its new Cyber Physical Systems Security Laboratory during a reception to recognize the generosity of alumnus Nicholas Piazzola ’68 EE and his wife Deirdre, whose gift equipped the new state-of-the-art space. Piazzola, his wife, and daughter Maria, were joined by friends from Villanova’s Electrical Engineering class of 1968 and their spouses, as well as faculty and leadership. This high-tech research and teaching facility will serve faculty and students in the College’s Cybersecurity program, supporting specialization in the areas of critical infrastructure, industrial control system security and the Internet of Things.

The dedication began with Interim Dean Dr. Randy Weinstein acknowledging the couple’s generous gift and sharing highlights from Piazzola’s impressive career, which included more than 28 years with the National Security Agency, where he worked on secure communications. After retiring from the NSA in 1996, he joined internet-security startup VeriSign Inc., where he spent 14 years as vice president for government programs. Piazzola retired in May 2014 as senior director for identity credentialing and access management solutions at Symantec Inc. Today, he “takes it easy” as co-owner of a top Italian restaurant in the Baltimore area.

1968 Electrical Engineering classmates Bill Gadino, John Milito, Nick Piazzola, Joe Lang and Joe Lario, U.S. Navy Capt. (Ret.)
1968 Electrical Engineering classmates Bill Gadino, John Milito, Nick Piazzola, Joe Lang and Joe Lario, U.S. Navy Capt. (Ret.)

Asked about his donation, which included support for the expansion of the Center for Engineering Education and Research where the lab is located, Piazzola said: “Villanova Engineering enabled my highly successful 46-year career in information security. Funding the new laboratory was a great way to help train future generations of Villanova engineers to address the growing challenges in cybersecurity.”

Associate Professor of Practice Dr. James Solderitsch ’86 CLAS provided the guests with demonstrations of the facility’s cyber physical systems technology, noting tha lab partner Cybati has developed a number of innovative kinetic models that support educational programs. He added that—under the Harris Summer Innovation Program—a team of four undergraduate students will work with him to develop new equipment and software that will be integrated into the lab.

Also participating in the dedication, Electrical and Computer Engineering Chair and Professor Dr. Bijan Mobasseri took an opportunity to highlight the Cybersecurity graduate program’s impressive growth over the past five years. “In spring 2014, when the program launched, we had only seven admitted students. Today, there are 81 part-time and full-time students pursuing their graduate degrees in this discipline.” As enrollment grew, so did the number of course offerings—three initial courses have expanded to 33 with what Dr. Mobasseri described as “exceptional breadth, scope and timeliness.” This spring, the program was made available to undergraduates through a new Cybersecurity minor developed in partnership with the Department of Computer Science.

Dr. Mobasseri concluded his remarks by stating, “The Cyber Physical Systems Security Laboratory will attract even more students, will act as a recruiting tool for new faculty and helps to establish new relations with industry. In short, it's a game changer.”