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ODU Wins Grant from the U.S. Department of Education for STEM Workforce Training

By Keith Pierce

The Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology and the Darden College of Education and Professional Studies at Old Dominion University have received a $675,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education aimed at supporting Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. The Innovation & Modernization Grant (I&M) is designed to test new ideas by identifying, supporting and evaluating evidence-based strategies for improving CTE programs and ensure workforce skills being taught align with local labor market needs.

The "Computer Science Principles and Cybersecurity Pathway for Career and Technical Education" project supports an ongoing collaboration with Norfolk Public Schools to develop supplemental educational modules with B.S.-level cybersecurity courses at ODU. Led by Vukica Jovanovic, associate professor of engineering technology in the Batten College of Engineering and Technology, the funding will support a pilot program at Granby High School and ultimately expand into four other Norfolk high schools.

Among the key goals of the program are to increase access to STEM education for underrepresented high school students and to demystify computer science and cybersecurity by helping students and families understand the value of this curriculum in a data-driven society.

"We have to start taking the fear out of these STEM fields by creating awareness among these unrepresented groups," Jovanovic said. "We're going to achieve this by developing and delivering professional training workshops to CTE high school faculty focused on computer science and cybersecurity and by engaging college students to serve as mentors and role models to the high school students."

With the high military influence in Hampton Roads, both public- and private-sector computer science and cybersecurity jobs are increasing.

"Jobs requiring workers with high-tech skills, such as computer science and cybersecurity, are constantly being created in our area and beyond, yet employers say they are not able to find competent employees to fill these positions," Jovanovic said. "The educational modules we develop will not only help high school students have an easier transition from secondary education to postsecondary education, but they will also be well-aligned with industry needs for those students going straight into employment."

Co-principal investigators on the project include Murat Kuzlu, assistant professor of engineering technology; Honqyi (Michael) Wu, director of ODU's Center for Cybersecurity Education and Research; Linda Vahala, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; Otilia Popescu, associate professor of engineering technology; and Petros Katsioloudis, professor & chair of STEM education and professional studies in the Darden College of Education and Professional Studies.

"We know that access to high-quality career and technical education options can open up new pathways to success for students," U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a press release. "It's gratifying to see each of these grantees rethinking education and modernizing workforce training in their communities to ensure students have the skills they need for in-demand, high-paying jobs."

Because Old Dominion University has been identified as a National Excellence Center for cybersecurity education, the secondary cybersecurity educational pathways could lead to entry into B.S., M.S. or doctoral programs at the University.

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