By Kelsey Kendall

Leadership at the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative Coastal Virginia Node, led by Old Dominion University, is changing this summer as current director Brian Payne shifts into his new role as ODU’s Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.

Payne, vice provost for academic affairs and dean of interdisciplinary studies, has served as the director for COVA CCI for the last five years. He will move into the interim provost and vice president role starting July 1, after Austin Agho steps down from the position.

Headshot of a man
Brian Payne (Chuck Thomas/ODU)

Daniel Takabi, director of the School of Cybersecurity at ODU, will succeed Payne as the initiative’s new director starting that same day.

“When we talk about the perfect person for the position, in my perspective, (Takabi) is the right one for the job,” Payne said. “He has the expertise and the skills, so I would say to him is to rely on his experience as well as the experiences of those around him to keep COVA CCI moving forward.”

Takabi said he is excited to step into this new role to help take the initiative “to the next level.”

“COVA CCI has had a significant impact on building regional partnerships among the universities, the industry and the government agencies in terms of workforce development and research collaboration in cybersecurity,” Takabi said.

Takabi was appointed to lead the School of Cybersecurity in August 2023. He received a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh and previously served as the founding director of the Information Security and Privacy: Interdisciplinary Research and Education Center at Georgia State University.

The University, the School of Cybersecurity and COVA CCI place an emphasis on interdisciplinary studies, bringing in students and faculty from various backgrounds and programs. Payne himself is a social scientist and is tenured in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice.

As dean of interdisciplinary studies, Payne said he noticed there was an opportunity to bring the concept into cybersecurity. He knew with his background in studying white collar crime that there was an opportunity to bring multiple disciplines together to create the cybersecurity major in 2015. The program started with less than a dozen students and now has approximately 1,600.

Payne was with COVA CCI since its inception and helped paved the way for different initiatives and research collaborations across the state. Under his leadership, the coastal Virginia node received more than $11 million in funding from both external grants and CCI-funded research projects.

Takabi attributed much of the program’s and initiative’s success to Payne’s efforts.

“He has been very essential in terms of getting COVA CCI established, bringing the support in from the beginning, and has been very supportive of all the programs related to cybersecurity both at ODU and in the region,” Takabi said.

The Commonwealth Cyber Initiative is a statewide network that includes higher education institutions and industry, government, non-government and economic development organizations. Their mission is to collaborate on cybersecurity research, innovation, workforce development and news.

Established in 2018 by the Virginia General Assembly, the initiative has more than 40 higher education institutions involved, including Old Dominion University, more than 375 researchers and $192 million going toward sponsored programs.

CCI Coastal Virginia is led by ODU and partners with Christopher Newport University, College of William & Mary, ECPI, Norfolk State University, Paul D. Camp Community College, Regent University, Tidewater Community College and Virginia Peninsula Community College.