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Ten weeks. Three Summers. Thirty Undergraduate Students Tackle Cybersecurity Research

By Keith Pierce

Motivated by cybersecurity research, 30 undergraduate students from institutions across the nation participated in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at Old Dominion University. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Old Dominion's cybersecurity REU program has allowed students to conduct cutting-edge cybersecurity research with faculty mentors at the University during the summer months. The 10-week program engages undergraduate students in ongoing NSF research areas or in research projects specifically designed for the REU program.

"The REU program has been tremendously successful in showcasing student research accomplishments and promoting graduate study and cybersecurity workforce development," said ChungSheng Xin, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who co-leads the program. "Twenty REU students in the summer of 2017 and 2018 have already published ten technical papers in journals or conference proceedings."

Among the 30 REU students in the ODU program, 18 were enrolled or intend to go to graduate schools and 7 already worked or intend to seek employment in cybersecurity.

Shuyi (Nick) Liu, an ODU REU student majoring in computer science at Vanderbilt University, received the Jay Liebowitz Outstanding Student Research Award for a paper titled "Research on Security Visualization: A Survey." Presented at the 59th Annual Conference of International Association for Computer Information Systems (IACIS) held this month in Clearwater Beach, Fla., the award recognizes an outstanding research paper.

While the research papers may be co-authored by other students and/or faculty, the research must be based on a student-initiated project. Guided by his advisor, Wu He, associate professor of information technology in the Strome College of Business, and Xin Tian, a former Old Dominion University doctoral student currently serving as assistant professor of information technology at Kennesaw State University, Liu's paper investigates and analyzes the progress of security visualization over the past 10 years and not only covers a variety of security visualization tools and techniques introduced, but also covers applications and evaluation systems proposed.

The REU program is highly competitive. Each student receives a $6,200 stipend, free on-campus housing and travel support.

"Every year we received over 100 applications from institutions across the nation," said Xin. "We chose 10 students each year who were strongly motivated to conduct cutting-edge, multidisciplinary research to work with faculty mentors at ODU for ten weeks during the summer."

Xin and He lead the ODU REU cybersecurity site along with Khan Iftekharuddin, professor of electrical and computer engineering and associate dean for research in the Batten College of Engineering and Technology and Jiang Li, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

The REU program also received support from faulty in the Center for Cybersecurity Education and Research, including Professors Hongyi "Michael" Wu, Brian Payne, Sachin Shetty, Danella Zhao, Jeremiah Still, Cong Wang and Dylan Wittkower.

"Our faculty mentors offered research projects across multiple disciplines, from malware classification, Internet of Things security, homomorphic cryptography on digital manufacturing, cyberbullying study, and intrusion detection, to radio frequency-based drone classification, and cybercrime analysis," said He.

REU activities included seminars, graduate study panels, career panels, and a final oral and poster symposium, as well as field trips to the Navy Cyber Defense Operation Command (NCDOC) in Suffolk, Virginia and the Norfolk Naval Base where students were able to hear from Navy cybersecurity experts.

The REU students also actively participated in outreach to the local community and organized REU panels in annual Cybersecurity summer camps for local middle and school students and teachers hosted at ODU.

UPDATE since November publication: Jahmelia Atkinson, an ODU REU student majoring in computer science at Fort Valley State University in Fort Valley, Georgia, won second place for her poster presentation in the Computer Science and Information Management category. The award was presented at the Emerging Researchers National Conference in STEM in Feb. 2020.

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