By Sherry DiBari

As part of the Coastal Virginia Center for Cyber Innovation, a cohort of 20 undergraduates from five institutions are taking part in the fall 2020 INNOVATE Cyber Challenge (ICC). Launched this spring, the program allows students to engage in a virtual environment to practice what they have learned within a real-world, work-based setting.

The students, selected from Old Dominion, Christopher Newport University, Norfolk State University, Paul D. Camp and Tidewater community colleges, worked in five teams to design their prototypes focused on cyber hygiene awareness.

Project titles include: Cyber Hygiene Seminars, THE Cyber Hygienists, Cyber Hygiene Awareness & Initiative Networking (CHAIN), What is a Net Pet? and Celebrate Cyber Security!

The INNOVATE Cyber Challenge engages student teams in an immersive multidisciplinary learning experience using design thinking. The design-thinking framework - a human-centered method - focuses on creating innovators for creative action that leans heavily on empathy, observation, interviewing, ideation and brainstorming.

"I've really enjoyed my experience with INNOVATE Cyber," said Matthew Price, a junior majoring in cybersecurity at ODU. "The process of developing a cyber hygiene solution that could actually help people has been very rewarding."

TCC engineering sophomore Aralee Fajardo explained how the experience is honing her skills in cybersecurity and contributing to the innovative STEM workforce pipeline.

"ICC helped me develop and gain a more innovative and clearer design thought process in problem-solving that will help me become a more empathetic female leader," she said.

Mechelle King, a candidate for juris doctor, class of 2021, at William & Mary who assisted the students throughout the challenge, said: "It was my pleasure to be part of this. I was so impressed by all the teams; it was super gratifying to see their weeks of work come to life."

Design thinking is a process for creative problem-solving. Teams carry out research, create prototypes and test products and services to uncover new ways to meet users' needs.

Price noted that the team approach to problem-solving is key.

"It's been made better by the people I have collaborated with throughout this process. I look forward to seeing how far this project can go," he said.

The focus is on the people they're creating for, which leads to better products, services and internal processes (Ideo U). Fajardo explained that the process was unique and challenging, especially as a community college student.

"I was thrilled to use my creative perspective to challenge assumptions and motivated to lead with a diverse perspective," she said.

The upcoming INNOVATE Cyber Pitch Event will be held at 3 p.m. Nov. 18. For event information, visit COVA CCI INNOVATE Cyber. For additional information about COVA CCI, visit

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