Old Dominion University's School of Cybersecurity and Center for High Impact Practices recently received a $3.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation to help prepare cybersecurity professionals for the federal workforce. The ODU project, "Preparing Future Cybersecurity LeADERS through Applied Learning Experiences," is funded through NSF's CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program.

Working with Tidewater Community College and Thomas Nelson Community College, the project will prepare 24 cybersecurity scholarship students for careers with the federal government. The students will participate in ODU's LeADERS program. Aligning cybersecurity programming and support services offered in the Center for High Impact Practices, participating students will be referred to as Cyber LeADERS Scholars. They will receive a full in-state tuition scholarship, an annual stipend ranging from $25,000 (for undergraduate students) to $34,000 (for graduate students) and a professional development allowance.

In addition, a case management model bringing together representatives from Career Development Services, the Office of Financial Aid, the Center for Advising Administration and Academic Partnerships, and the Coastal Virginia Center for Cyber Innovation will be used to provide the Cyber LeADERS scholars coordinated support.

"The Cyber LeADERS grant epitomizes ODU's strengths in promoting student success through cross-institutional efforts and building programs that address the needs of the community," ODU President John R. Broderick said. "This grant shows that others have recognized the potential of our School of Cybersecurity and the value of our LeADERS program."

Developed under the leadership of Austin Agho, provost and vice president for academic affairs, the LeADERS program incentivizes students to engage in applied learning activities by taking courses that are grounded in experiential learning. The acronym LeADERS captures courses in leadership, academic internships, diversity experiences, research and service learning. The lower-case "e" refers to the required e-portfolio that LeADERS students must create.

As part of the grant, Cyber LeADERS scholars will also be required to complete summer internships with government agencies. Students also will be expected to participate in activities offered by the School of Cybersecurity, the Coastal Virginia Center for Cyber Innovation and the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative. After graduation, program participants will be required to work for the federal government for a specified amount of time, which is typically equivalent to the number of years the students were funded for.

"ODU has a long history of promoting experiential learning," said Brian K. Payne, vice provost for academic affairs, director of the Coastal Virginia Center for Cyber Innovation and principal investigator for the grant. "In the Cyber LeADERS program, we are building on that history and helping to prepare those who will be leading the federal government's efforts to respond to future cybersecurity challenges."

The School of Cybersecurity, created in October 2020, houses ODU's cybersecurity degree programs. The University began offering a cybersecurity major in 2015. At the time, 11 students enrolled in the program. In Fall 2020, more than 800 students were enrolled in ODU's programs.

"The growth in our cybersecurity programs is a testament to the high-quality instruction delivered by our group of interdisciplinary faculty from across campus," said Hongyi Wu, the director of the School of Cybersecurity and a co-PI on the grant. "The Cyber LeADERS program will provide participating students the support they need to engage in meaningful experiential learning activities while simultaneously focusing on their coursework."

Lisa Mayes, executive director of the Center for High Impact Practices, oversees the LeADERS program. "Watching students go through the LeADERS program has opened my eyes to the power of experiential learning in transforming students' lives," she said.

The Cyber LeADERS Scholars program is open to TCC and TNCC cybersecurity students planning to transfer to ODU's cybersecurity program as well as juniors, seniors and graduate students enrolled in ODU's cybersecurity programs.

"Every day, we see headlines that underscore the urgency of ensuring an adequately sized and well-trained cybersecurity workforce in the United States, particularly in government agencies," said Kim Barrett, director of NSF's Division of Graduate Education.

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