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ODU-Led Cybersecurity Grant has Eager Hampton Roads Partners

By Brendan O'Hallarn

Old Dominion University has been tasked by the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to lead an initiative in Hampton Roads to help fill a national shortage of cybersecurity professionals.

The University's local partners couldn't be more excited.

"It's a great time to be working in cybersecurity in Virginia," said Mary Sandy, director of the Virginia Space Grant Consortium (VSGC). The consortium is one of the partners of the Hampton Roads Cybersecurity Education, Workforce and Economic Development Alliance, which is led by Old Dominion's Center for Cybersecurity Education and Research.

The group received a grant of nearly $200,000 from NIST's National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education.

For its project, Old Dominion will coordinate the Hampton Roads Cybersecurity Education, Workforce and Economic Development Alliance. It will include two community colleges, two large public school districts, two universities, a large local private employer, a major federal research lab and several small businesses focused on promoting cybersecurity training and education.

Sandy said increased participation from every part of the consortium is vital to fill the cybersecurity workforce pipeline. The Space Grant Consortium will run a series of workshops to inform counselors and career coaches about the field and how they can prepare students for the explosion in demand for cybersecurity skills.

"A Cyber Saturday series will provide hands-on activities for students and information sessions for parents on cyber careers," Sandy said. "VSGC will leverage our Commonwealth STEM Industry Internship Program to place community college students in cybersecurity internships with Virginia companies."

Five local firms with ties to the cybersecurity industry will also play a role in the project.

"As an organization that helps others plan for, defend against and respond to cyber-attacks, we were excited to learn that our HR Cyber Alliance was awarded this NIST grant," said Stephen Watkins, vice president and chief security strategist for G2 Ops Inc.

"Our insight into the necessary skill sets and our ability to provide students practical experience through internships or apprenticeships will help steer the development of a ready and capable regional cyber workforce."

Brian Payne, Old Dominion's vice provost for academic affairs, said the award from NIST recognizes the University's unique approach to cybersecurity.

"We're honored that our Center for Cybersecurity Education and Research can lead the diverse assets in the region in this important task of educating cybersecurity professionals," he said.

Payne said the grant rewards Old Dominion for the unique way it tackles cybersecurity education, blending coursework with research, bringing together faculty, staff, students and community partners to discuss how to study and teach the subject.

Other education partners in the Hampton Roads Cybersecurity Education, Workforce and Economic Development Alliance include the College of William & Mary, the Virginia Community College System, Thomas Nelson Community College, Tidewater Community College, Virginia Beach City Public Schools and Newport News City Public Schools.

Non-governmental organization partners include ReInvent Hampton Roads, CRTN Solutions LLC, Cyber Protection Resources and the VSGC. Regional employers taking part in the initiative include Newport News Shipbuilding, Booz Allen Hamilton, Peregrine Technical Solutions, AERMOR and G2 Ops.

A 2015 analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by Stanford University found more than 209,000 open cybersecurity positions in the United States. The number of job postings had risen 74 percent in the previous five years.

Old Dominion recognized this critical need in launching its cybersecurity initiative in 2015.

The University hired internationally recognized scholar Hongyi "Michael" Wu as the inaugural Batten Chair of Cybersecurity. Wu has led the creation of the University's Center for Cybersecurity Education and Research, which brings together the work of more than two dozen faculty at Old Dominion University.

Last fall, the University began offering a cybersecurity major in its interdisciplinary studies degree program. That made Old Dominion one of the few institutions in the country addressing cybersecurity with an interdisciplinary approach.

The program draws faculty from electrical and computer engineering, computer sciences, information technology, criminal justice, philosophy, psychology, political science and other academic departments.

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