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National Science Foundation Awards $500,000 Grant to ODU

By Joe Garvey

The National Science Foundation recently awarded a three-year $500,000 grant to Old Dominion University researchers to address a critical gap in the training of cybersecurity students.

According to Hongyi "Michael"Wu, Batten Chair of Cybersecurity and director of the Center for Cybersecurity Education and Research, standard cybersecurity courses don't cover cyberinfrastructure (CI) - the technology used to store, manage and integrate large amounts of data.

"We studied a wide spectrum of cybersecurity curricula across the nation," Wu said. "We don't see that any of them have integrated this aspect."

The new program, DeapSECURE: A Data-Enabled Advanced Training Program for Cyber Security Research and Education, aims to fill those educational gaps. The goal is to educate students on the use of CI techniques such as Big Data and machine learning, as well as advanced CI platforms, including cloud and high-performance computing, to assess cyber risks and identify and mitigate threats in computer systems and networks.

Wu, along with Masha Sosonkina, professor of modeling, simulation and visualization engineering, and Wirawan Purwanto, a computational scientist with Research Computing Services, will use the grant money to develop CI training modules for four-year college, community college and high school students.

Purwanto said the skills students will learn "are very useful to tackle many 'grand challenges' in science and society, such as clean energy, precision medicine, social disparity and national security. Students who will enter careers in industry will also benefit because these skills have been widely used in many commercial sectors, such as banks, online retailers, entertainment and health care, to name a few."

The modules will be delivered through six workshops during the fall and spring semesters, and one summer institute annually. Twenty students are expected to be trained in each of the workshops, with 20 more in the summer institutes, Wu said.

The workshops primarily target ODU students. Summer institutes are open to cybersecurity students at ODU, Tidewater Community College, Thomas Nelson Community College and Norfolk State University, as well as participants in Research Experience for Undergraduates and K-through-12 students. The summer institutes generally repeat the six teaching modules covered in the workshops, but offer more activities, such as field trips and cyber competitions.

Students will be able to access an online continuous-learning community after the face-to-face sessions.

Sosonkina said she thinks the program will benefit not just ODU but other state universities that are part of the ACCORD consortium, including Virginia, Virginia Tech and James Madison.

Wu sees universal dividends from the initiative.

"Not only will this project benefit the students who will attend our workshops and summer institutes, but we also will develop those teaching modules, and eventually we will put those modules together into a formal course so other institutions can use our material," he said. "We will reach out not only to educational institutions but also to industry and government research labs. It will have a much broader impact beyond ODU and the Hampton Roads region."

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