By Amber Kennedy

Researchers from Old Dominion University's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC) were awarded a $1.15 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to provide innovative and multidisciplinary research opportunities to graduate students across ODU's academic colleges and departments.

The grant will fund the Graduate Research Opportunities and Workforce Readiness in Modeling and Simulation (GROW M&S) project, offering programmatic activities anchored in three priorities:

  • Expanding M&S multidisciplinary research opportunities for graduate students.
  • Enhancing transferrable academic and professional skill sets.
  • Enhancing strategic collaborations across M&S academia and industry partners through a learning ecosystem.

A total of 24 graduate students, over the course of the three-year grant, will engage directly with VMASC research faculty conducting multidisciplinary research. By offering opportunities to conduct research supporting new methodologies and techniques, the GROW M&S project will recruit diverse students into the fields of modeling and simulation.

In a release, U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott celebrated the grant funding, noting VMASC is "a national leader in modeling and simulation." Scott authored the provision for the federal grant program when Congress reauthorized the Higher Education Act in 2008. The grant "will help ensure that our nation maintains its competitive edge in this field," Scott said.

Research faculty at VMASC and ODU are leading groundbreaking research in a wide range of areas, including: cybersecurity, autonomous vessels, computer science, social sciences, systems engineering, supply chain and cyber physical systems, language modeling, learning science, public health, and more.

The grant's principal investigators will directly recruit students to participate in GROW M&S through partnership with ODU colleges and departments. VMASC PIs of the project include: Sachin Shetty, Masud Rana, Yiannis Papelis, Jose Padilla, Erika Freydenlund, Krzysztof Rechowicz, Rafael Diaz, Katherine Smith, Michael Nelson, Deri Draper-Amason and Heather Richter.

"Industry and potential employers require a newer and more intellectually evolved generation, one that is better equipped at agile methodologies and enhanced critical thinking through the utilization of modeling and simulation," said Eric Weisel, associate vice president for applied research and executive director of VMASC. "Often students possess these skill sets but lack confidence in their abilities or are intimidated at the thought of conducting research. This program will help shepherd them from the classroom to the workforce, building a pipeline to fill extremely in-demand jobs."

Cohorts will participate in workforce readiness workshops to elevate skillsets needed for post-graduation employment. These workshops will include CV/resume-writing seminars, grant writing seminars, professional development and opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and collaboration. Alongside their PI mentors, students submit research papers and presentations to conferences and publications. Students will have opportunities for paid summer internships with industry partners.

With specifically designed self-assessment surveys, research faculty mentorships and opportunities for advanced engagement in M&S research, the project offers the capacity to identify gaps in graduate student workforce readiness and transferrable skill sets for career pathways.

Jessica Johnson, director for STEM and student engagement at VMASC, serves as the project director. She describes the GROW M&S research design as "the creation of a supportive environment that helps graduate students form deliberate skill sets toward their studies, scientific work and future professions."

"Through the combined activities, students will be provided powerful, experiential ways of looking at real-world problems and finding solutions in a variety of disciplines," she added.

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