By Joe Garvey

A multidisciplinary team of Old Dominion University researchers has been awarded a $100,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to help reshape the national landscape of K-16 cybersecurity education and address the workforce shortage in the field.

The Cybersecurity Inclusive Pathways toward Higher Education and Research (CIPHER) project will incorporate faculty from the Batten College of Engineering and Technology, College of Sciences, Darden College of Education and Professional Studies, and College of Arts and Letters

CIPHER will focus on a researcher-practitioner partnership for the development of fundamental, theoretically grounded and systematic approaches to inclusive cybersecurity education, especially for students of low socioeconomic status.

Hongyi "Michael" Wu, director of Center for Cybersecurity Education and Research and a professor in Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, will serve as principal investigator. Co-principal investigators will be Chunsheng Xin, professor of electrical and computer engineering; Danella Zhao, associate professor of computer science; Karen Sanzo, professor of educational foundations and leadership, and Brian Payne, vice provost and professor of sociology and criminal justice.

"We have seen substantial growth of ODU's cybersecurity program in the past few years, with enrollment increasing from 11 to over 700," Wu said. "This project will develop innovative and inclusive pathways for cybersecurity education and research to help us sustain the growth. It can be a critical step to establish ODU as a state and national leader in cybersecurity workforce development."

Unfilled cybersecurity jobs are expected to reach 1.8 million by 2022, according to the Center for Cyber Safety and Education. U.S. cybersecurity education and training institutions have found it difficult to meet the growing demand. In addition to a significant gap between K-12 and college education in cybersecurity, minorities and women are underrepresented. Lack of partnership and coordination between educational institutions also contribute to gaps in cybersecurity education.

At least 10 local school districts (with a total of 175,163 students) and faculty from a dozen colleges and universities in Virginia will collaborate with ODU on the project through a series of meetings and work group activities.

"The faculty and administrators from the schools will be closely engaged in the development of the project," Wu said.

Scholars from multiple disciplines and practitioners from a variety of fields will work together to determine what administrators, educators, counselors and parents need to know and do to support cybersecurity education.

Among the issues they will address:

  • Where to fit cybersecurity into the K-12 curricula, how to allocate time and how to ensure adequate resources and infrastructure in schools.
  • How to ensure that students from different socioeconomic levels have equal access to the curricula, teachers, resources and infrastructure needed for cybersecurity education.
  • How to assess students and support student mobility (especially for areas with high concentrations of low socioeconomic students and military families).
  • How to ensure teachers have access to cybersecurity curricula and learning resources, and how to prepare instructors to teach learning modules and increase students' interest in cybersecurity.

"CIPHER is a unique opportunity to leverage the partnerships ODU has already established with school divisions, universities and our community," said Sanzo, the project manager, "as well as to develop new partnerships to create an authentic collaborative that cultivates a diverse pipeline of students into the field of cybersecurity."

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