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CCI Education and Experiential Learning Programs

In 2020, the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative sought proposals for scalable pilot programs for experiential learning from member institutions across Virginia that would provide students with industry experience and enhance their skill sets to better prepare them to enter the cybersecurity workforce. The CCI-funded program aims to create a statewide ecosystem of excellence in cyber-physical systems and serve as a catalyst for research, innovation, talent development, and commercialization of technologies at the intersection of security, autonomy, and data. A panel of faculty from CCI member institutions reviewed the submissions and awarded funding for six experiential learning projects to faculty and their students across the state:

Startup companies are an important part of the Virginia cybersecurity ecosystem and they need cybersecurity talent, but are often limited in hiring because they don’t have adequate financial resources and the cost of labor is high. By offering opportunities for students to obtain experiential learning at cybersecurity startups with a focus on innovation, this program will foster creativity and entrepreneurship in students and connect startups with potential future employees.

Participating students will not only develop their technical skills with real-world experience, but will also gain valuable soft skills, such as critical thinking and communication, that are essential in the dynamic startup environment. Furthermore, being part of the cybersecurity innovation ecosystem during their college education will encourage students to take advantage of these connections to stay in Virginia once they graduate and begin their professional careers.

Lead faculty are Karen L. Livingston, associate director of entrepreneurship programs at George Mason University; Diane R. Murphy, professor of information management at Marymount University; and Sarah M. Spalding, interim associate dean of the School of Business and Technology at Marymount University.

In this project, the Virginia Space Grant Consortium will expand on its existing Commonwealth STEM Industry Internship program to build and grow state-wide experiential learning opportunities for Virginia students majoring in cyber-physical systems, cybersecurity, autonomous systems, and data.

The existing infrastructure will facilitate the connections between Virginia industry and STEM students who will develop professional and essential job-readiness skills they will need in their careers. When students graduate they will have established relationships with Virginia companies and be more likely to stay in the commonwealth as they enter the workforce.

This project is led by Mary Sandy, Virginia Space Grant Consortium director, Old Dominion University.

This program will offer multidisciplinary teams of undergraduate and high school students the opportunity to work together on problems of direct relevance to the development of secure and trustworthy artificial intelligence, a growing field with a high demand for talent.

AISLE will take place over five consecutive Saturday mornings at George Mason University and five additional consecutive Saturday mornings at James Madison University. Each five-Saturday period will have a dedicated theme, such as cybercrime, finance cybersecurity, health data security, cybersecurity in transportation, or detection of cyberthreats that will be decided in collaboration with industry partners. The program is envisioned as a group of project-based learning activities, rather than a hackathon.

Lead faculty are Nektaria Tryfona, executive director of digital innovation and strategy at George Mason University and director of the Mason DataLab; Kamaljeet Sanghera, executive director of STEM outreach and associate professor of engineering at George Mason University; and Samy El-Tawab, associate professor of engineering at James Madison University.

Graduate students are a critical component of the pipeline for cyber talent, especially in fields like cyber physical system security. In this project, researchers at the University of Virginia will adapt three graduate-level cyber physical systems courses with associated hands-on labs that can be adopted by universities throughout the commonwealth.

The courses will address real-world industry needs and problems, based on input from an established industrial advisory board, and will feature workshops on verbal and written communication, leadership opportunities through group projects, and sessions on ethics and entrepreneurship. The course, Signal Processing, Machine Learning and Control, will be taught by John A. Stankovic, the BP America Professor of Computer Science. Formal Methods, Safety, and Security will be taught by Lu Feng, an assistant professor of computer science. Mobile and Internet of Things Security and Privacy will be taught by Yian Tian, an assistant professor of computer science.

Drones can accomplish diverse tasks, from delivering packages to military reconnaissance. Advancements in drone technology have spawned an entirely new competitive high-speed sport with a first-person view that involves piloting a drone against other racers through a course with several checkpoints.

This project will build multidisciplinary teams of students who will compete in a series of “battle” drone-based AI competitions. The competitions will increase in course difficulty, include local companies for mentoring, and evolve to include cybersecurity challenges such as positioning communications systems degradation, jamming, and adversarial AI. Students will be encouraged to understand the existing infrastructure and to find ways to increase their chances of surviving and defeating their opponents.

The project will be led by Jonathan Black, professor of aerospace and ocean engineering and director of the Aerospace and Ocean Systems Laboratory in the Virginia Tech Hume Center for National Security and Technology.

Convolutional neural networks have been extensively used to assess road networks using imagery collected in two ways: on the ground via smartphone and aerially via satellites or drones. Imagery collected on the ground is largely used for road quality or as input into self-driving algorithms, whereas imagery collected by satellite or airborne systems is largely used to identify the growth or change in road networks in inaccessible areas.

In this project, students will work with William & Mary faculty and external industry partners to design a data collection app and construct a convolutional neural network to predict road roughness across Virginia, incorporating data from ground and aerial imagery. The second part of the project will be a cybersecurity competition in which student teams will explore ways to identify potential malicious changes to imagery and ways to mitigate the impact of such “data poisoning.”

Lead faculty are Daniel Runfola, assistant professor of computer science; Anthony Stefanidis, professor of computer science; and Peter Kemper, associate professor of computer science.

Online Range Readiness and Reach Programs

To develop cybersecurity competence in the next generation of Virginians, the Commonwealth has created courses to be taught in the K-12 system. A major problem at this point is the lack of basic cybersecurity knowledge among K-12 teachers and the lack of familiarity of the teachers in the K-12 system with using the technology necessary to utilize the Cyber Range. Supported by the CCI Southwest Virginia Node, Radford University’s Department of Information Technology will develop modules intended for K-12 teachers, community college faculty, and practitioners to develop competence in both the operating system and cybersecurity basics necessary to incorporate cybersecurity topics into K-12 classes and the required technical competence to more fully utilize Virginia’s Cyber Range.

Cyber Range Bootcamps

The CCI Southwest Virginia Node will host a cybersecurity bootcamp for Virginia high school teachers and community college faculty who will be teaching cybersecurity classes to better prepare them. Of the approximately 200 Virginia high schools using the cyber range right now, very few of them have fully qualified cybersecurity teachers. Most schools are making do with teachers who normally teach something else (computer science, math, business IT, etc.). The Cyber Range will train 20 - 25 teachers who attend this residential camp each summer. Participants in the past were paid a small stipend and travel. The courseware and infrastructure is available in the Cyber Range.

2020 Virginia Cybersecurity Workshop

In 2020, CCI supported the Virginia Cybersecurity Workshop, hosted by the Virginia Cyber Range. The Commonwealth Cyber Initiative and the Virginia Cyber Range will host an online workshop to support Virginia secondary school teachers and Virginia Community College instructors who teach cybersecurity topics. Instruction will focus on core cybersecurity topics such as cryptography, networking, and an introduction to the Linux command line, along with discussions of ethics, cybersecurity careers, and emerging topics such as 5G.  Hands-on labs using the Virginia Cyber Range will demonstrate the topics and how they can be taught in your school. The two-week (half-day for 9 days) workshop will culminate with a Capture-the-Flag competition. Attendees receive 3.0 CEUs, a book, and other surprise items. Fifty teachers and instructors are expected to attend this workshop.

Cyber Curriculum Alignment  

The Northern Virginia Node is working with its partners to build capacity for a cyber-capable workforce. This includes enhancing and aligning the existing academic curricula of the NoVa Node academic partners with NoVa Node industry-identified skills, the NICE workforce framework, and existing and projected practices, in order to create pathways that bridge the gap between education and jobs; exploring and aligning industry certification if possible with credit bearing coursework and ensure dual enrolment and transfer between community colleges and 4-year institutions; and developing where possible, ways to enable credits for prior work and ensure credit transfer between institutions. In the spring of 2020, the NoVA Node leadership developed and distributed a survey to examine critical needs of industry in cyber workforce development.  

Highschool Summer Camp for CyberAI

Northern Virginia Node will support a new summer camp designed to offer Virginia high school students the opportunity to learn about artificial intelligence and its increasingly important role in protecting our nation. The syllabus and activities developed will be made available to all schools in the Northern Virginia CCI node area, through a two-day orientation session and extensive dissemination of the resources. Recruitment will focus on diversity, including female participation.  

High School Internship Preparedness

The Northern Virginia Node is developing a two-week Professional Development Orientation program, to be offered as the start of a 10-week high school cybersecurity summer intern program. High school students will be able to apply for cybersecurity internships offered by CCI partners and other cybersecurity firms through the CCI internship portal embedded in the CCI NoVa Node website (under development). Students who receive an offer of a summer internship will be required to take the 2 week Professional Development Orientation at the CSC

Graduate Student Experiential Learning

The Coastal Virginia Node is connecting cybersecurity graduate students with students enrolled in community colleges or four-year institutions without graduate programs. Graduate students will be made available to serve as mentors or instructors in those institutions seeking graduate student support.

Curricula Development for Cyber Range and Coursework

To encourage utilization of the Cyber Range and curricula development across the node, Coastal Virginia Node is providing support to faculty members seeking to develop cybersecurity curricula. Faculty will be encouraged to identify gaps in existing curricula and propose strategies to fill those gaps. Workshops promoting the Cyber Range and curricula development will be held across the node institutions. Faculty receiving support will be expected to share their curricula with others in the Commonwealth.  

Community College Outreach and Bridge Programs

VCU is expanding a successful program that provides research experiences to high school and community college students, where students continue in engineering programs throughout the region. As a node, it will enable early instruction of CCI-related topics. In addition, working with community college partners, the Central Virginia Node will develop bridge programs for students who are interested in continuing their education at the Central Virginia Node’s four-year institutions.

Career Services Expansion

The Central Virginia Node is investing in support and advising students to expand the cyber workforce. The UVA Career Center is expanding their successful spring break externship program. This program partners with Virginia companies to place students in 1-5 day externships. This program exposes students to career options and opportunities and frequently results in internship offers for the student as a result of these brief visits. The VCU Engineering Career Services designating personnel to promote CCI related activities including internship, co-op and full time job opportunities. In collaboration with our industry partners VCU Engineering Career services is planning a career workshop and career day specifically targeting CCI related areas.