By Jonah Grinkewitz

Old Dominion University is partnering with Virginia Tech and Norfolk State University to grow a diverse cybersecurity workforce pipeline drawing on Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC) and Department of Defense (DoD)-aspiring students from each institution.

The Cybersecurity Research and Advanced Training of ROTC Students (CREATORS) Virtual Institute will provide experiential learning and applied research opportunities. The initiative will also engage students from underrepresented groups and diverse academic disciplines.

The CREATORS Virtual Institute is being funded by a $1.5 million award from the Griffiss Institute, which administers the Virtual Institutes for Cyber and Electromagnetic Spectrum Research and Employ program for the DoD (VICEROY). ODU, which was recently recognized for its Cybersecurity Job Creation System (CJCS), will receive $400,000 as part of the initiative.

Hongyi Wu, Batten Chair of Cybersecurity and director of the School of Cybersecurity, and Chunsheng Xin, professor of electrical and computer engineering, will lead ODU's involvement in the effort.

"The CREATORS VI will provide a pipeline of future cyber leaders by exposing them to the real-world challenges of security for complex systems such as ships, command and control and aircraft," Wu said.

"The cyberspace offers a new dimension of warfighting, and the importance of a well-trained cybersecurity workforce has been well recognized by the DoD," added Xin. "Through a well-structured program, this CREATORS VI project will train ROTC students into cyber talents to enter the DoD workforce, increase the warfighting capability of the armed forces, and protect the nation's cyberspace."

Teams of students from each university will learn about cybersecurity challenges and technology through a year-long project. The first teams will launch in the fall of 2022, with applications being solicited in the coming weeks.

Students will also design education materials and curricula that address gaps in existing coursework, collect data for education and research and partner with government and industry organizations to develop a summer capstone internship.

"We see hands-on experience as being critical for preparing our graduates for their subsequent careers," said Brian Payne, vice provost for academic affairs at ODU and director of the Coastal Virginia Center for Cyber Innovation. "This program's commitment to experiential learning and applied research ensures that participants will have the skills they need when they enter the workforce."

With more than 600,000 cyber jobs open in the country and more than 53,000 in Virginia, Wu said ROTC students are well-equipped to fill this need.

"ROTC is one of the most demanding and successful leadership programs in the country, preparing young adults for leadership and management positions in the increasingly technical DoD forces," he said. "Given that ROTC graduates become active-duty officers, it is anticipated that this effort will effectively contribute to improving the cyber readiness of the future DoD."

ODU's School of Cybersecurity is one of the fastest growing in the nation, with enrollment jumping from fewer than a dozen students in 2015 to nearly 1,000 by 2021. With established degrees, concentrations and certificates, ODU is working to close the workforce gap in cybersecurity. The University's Cybersecurity Job Creation System, started with a $1.45 million Growth and Opportunity for Virginia (GO Virginia) grant last June, is expected to help fill 1,300 new cybersecurity jobs in Virginia within five years.

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