New cybersecurity leader prepares students for urgent national needs

Jul 7, 2020

by Greg Williams
Publications Editor

As digital attacks increasingly threaten our computer networks and the sensitive data of organizations and individuals, cybersecurity has become one of the fastest-growing career fields in the nation, according to Dr. Jason Lewis, who will join Florida Southern College’s Department of Computer Science in fall 2020.

“The Tampa Bay region is quickly becoming a cybersecurity hub,” Dr. Lewis says. “There’s going to be a high demand for cybersecurity professionals, and we need to create a world-class degree program for our students, to help prepare them for the next frontier.”

Dr. Lewis will take over as coordinator of the department’s cybersecurity concentration, with the goal of educating high-caliber professionals to meet the needs of the region and the nation at large. FSC’s Department of Computer Science is attracting a growing number of first-year majors, in anticipation of a major expansion of the program with construction of the state-of-the art Carole and Marcus Weinstein Computer Sciences Center.

Weinstein rendering
Construction work is underway for the Carole and Marcus Weinstein Computer Sciences Center, which will overlook Lake Hollingsworth in the southeast corner of the Florida Southern campus.

Dr. Lewis was born in South Carolina, spent his formative years in Arizona, and attended high school and college in Tennessee. He earned his Ph.D. in 2007 from Clemson University, having planned to pursue a career in academia or research. However, the murder of his younger brother prompted Dr. Lewis to go into law enforcement, with the goal of using his training and skills to investigate computer crimes for the federal government.

He spent a year working as a patrol officer for the campus police at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, then took a position with a suburban police department in Denver. By 2011, he was a computer crimes investigator for the department, later becoming one of the founding members of the Colorado Electronic Crimes Task Force, which was run by the United States Secret Service.

“We investigated a full range of computer crimes, from corporate and financial hacks to child pornography and stalkings,” Dr. Lewis says. “It was a regional Rocky Mountain task force, but some of the cases were national.”

He took a medical retirement in 2013, returning to academia at the University of Colorado Denver, where he designed the school’s first digital forensics certificate program while continuing to work with the task force as an academic consultant. In 2015, Dr. Lewis took an appointment at the University of the Virgin Islands, where he built a cybersecurity concentration within the school’s bachelor program in computer science.

Within the space of just two weeks in September 2017, a pair of major hurricanes, Irma and Marie, hit the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“Both hurricanes hit our house,” Dr. Lewis says.

Less than a year later, he and his wife, Dr. Michelle Emerson-Lewis — a professor of criminal justice and sociology who teaches online for Michigan State University — had relocated to Tampa. Dr. Lewis previously worked as an adjunct graduate instructor for the University of South Florida, and he joined the school's computer science and engineering faculty in 2018 to lead the bachelor's degree program in cybersecurity.

When Florida Southern approached him to help develop the College’s cybersecurity program, Dr. Lewis viewed it as an opportunity to build a stronger bond with students, he says, while giving the new concentration the attention it needs to flourish.

“His experience will be invaluable to our students,” says FSC’s Dr. Christian Roberson, associate professor of computer science and the department chair. “As coordinator for the cybersecurity concentration, Jason will be helping us to refine our curriculum, advising students interested in pursuing cybersecurity careers, and helping to design the cyber range in the new computer science building.”

Dr. Lewis also will be involved in developing high-impact undergraduate research projects in the cybersecurity space, adds Dr. Roberson, in addition to building connections that benefit students by working with fellow faculty members “to continue growing new partnerships and opportunities with local companies.”