The Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) has funded $1 million in experiential learning projects for students across Virginia to help build the state’s vital cybersecurity workforce.

The seven projects include researchers from George Mason University, Longwood University, Marymount University, Old Dominion University, Radford University, University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and William & Mary.

“By building experiential learning programs in central, coastal, southwestern and northern Virginia, CCI is giving students the hands-on experiences they need to enjoy successful careers in cybersecurity,” said Luiz DaSilva, CCI executive director. “These programs are designed to grow to help meet the ever-expanding cybersecurity workforce needs of Virginia and the nation.”

The projects address the cybersecurity workforce needs in such areas as autonomous systems, startups, cyber biosecurity, electrical power systems, ports, and more.

The funded projects are:

Curating Industry Partnerships through Experiential Learning for Workforce Development in Cyber Biosecurity

Principal Investigator: Tiffany Drape, research assistant professor, Virginia Tech

Co-Principal Investigators: Joseph Oakes, Anne Brown, Joseph Simpson, Donna Westfall-Rudd, and Susan Duncan, Virginia Tech faculty

  • Project Description: This project provides hands-on learning opportunities for undergraduates interested in cyberbiosecurity careers where students will learn about agricultural and data security and management and be paired with industry partners to examine and propose security solutions. They will have the option of a paid internship with the industry partner. Involved faculty will share all content via open educational resources on multiple platforms, so higher education institutions can replicate and implement their own learning experience.

Cyber Risk Management and Analytics: An Interdisciplinary Approach in Experiential Learning

Principal Investigator: Chon Abraham, associate professor of management information systems, Mason School of Business, William & Mary

Co-Principal Investigators: Iria Giuffrida, Aaron Koehl, and Joe Wilck, William & Mary faculty

  • Project Description: Students will learn how cyber risk is defined in organizations, methods for collecting threat intelligence, legal and compliance constraints, and quantifying relevant cyberdata to analyze options for defense and mitigation. In addition, students will learn about the business, legal, and technical aspects of cyber risk management by working on real-world projects for companies providing data analytics-driven cyber risk management services.

Cybersecurity Monitoring and Assurance Training Program for Safe and Secure Port Operations

Principal Investigator: Sachin Shetty, associate professor of computational modeling and simulation engineering, Old Dominion University

Co-Principal Investigators: Saltuk Karhan and Sarada Prasad, Old Dominion University; Jim Haug and Darrell Carpenter, Longwood University; Jennifer Maeng, Thomas Polmateer, Lessie Oliver-Clark, Wei-Bang Chen, and Wookjin Choi, University of Virginia; Rich Ceci, Virginia International Terminals

  • Project Description: The Port of Virginia is planning to establish a Cybersecurity Monitoring Command and Control Center to help evaluate and respond to cybersecurity threats. This project will develop a suite of learning modules for the center to deploy at the port, provide students real-world experience through internships, and establish a pipeline of trained workforce for the future.

Cyber Startups: Expansion of Successful Pilot Program for Novel Experiential Learning

Principal Investigator: Gisele Stolz, director entrepreneurship programs & Mason Enterprise Center, Office of Entrepreneurship, and Innovation and Economic Development, George Mason University

Co-Principal Investigators: Paula Sorrell, George Mason University; Diane Murphy and Sarah Spalding, Marymount University

  • Project Description: Recognizing that startups and small businesses are an important and growing part of the Virginia cybersecurity ecosystem, the project focuses on two objectives: to provide cybersecurity students from diverse backgrounds with relevant, hands-on experiential learning opportunities, and to provide cybersecurity startups and subject matter experts with the talent they need to scale their businesses. This project seeks to diversify the cybersecurity talent pipeline and build a resilient and diverse cybersecurity innovation ecosystem that will help Northern Virginia thrive, post-pandemic.

Experiential Learning Through Conducting Data-driven Adversarial Attack Creation and Control in Connected Autonomous Vehicle Cyber Physical Systems

Principal Investigator: Haiying Shen, associate professor of computer science, electrical and computer engineering, and engineering systems and environment; University of Virginia

  • Project description: Imagine an autonomous vehicle is supposed to turn right but instead turns left, causing an accident. This could be more than a simple malfunction. It could be an attack. As connected autonomous vehicles become a part of the landscape of transportation cyber-physical systems, the demand for autonomous vehicle security solutions has increased. Researchers will create these mock attacks on connected autonomous vehicles systems and study how security can help prevent bad actors from gaining access to the system. Students will be analyzing data, designing and developing techniques, and conducting experiments to investigate and solve the security challenges of connected autonomous vehicles. They can apply what they learn from this project to a career in this growing field.
                                                                                                                            Scalable, Systematic, and Holistic Approach to Internship Quality Enhancement

Principal Investigator: John Ferris, associate professor of mechanical engineering, Virginia Tech

Co-Principal Investigators: Jeff Pittges, Radford University; Kimberly Filer, Heather Bradford, and Joseph Simpson, Virginia Tech; Laura Freeman, Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security and Technology

  • Project Description: Internship experiences can vary widely and students may not get the experiences needed for future careers and employers may miss out on top recruits. This project will close the gap of internship experiences for students and employers by creating a systematic, holistic, and scalable approach to improving the quality of internships. The research team will assess students and businesses throughout an internship to create “measures of success” metrics. A scalable proof-of-concept will be developed and include: a set of student/business assessments from cybersecurity workforce experiences (internships), a roadmap to scale this project across the commonwealth to enhance students’ essential skills to enter the cybersecurity workforce, and a website with best practices and resources to help employers increase and improve student internships.

Virginia Integrative Experiential Workforce for Power System Communication and Cybersecurity

Principal Investigator: Ali Mehrizi-Sani, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, Virginia Tech

Co-Principal Investigators: Chen-Ching Liu, Virginia Tech

  • Project Description: The national power system’s growing dependence on information and communication technology significantly increases its vulnerability to cyberattacks, potentially leading to power outages, costing as much as $33 billion annually. The goal of this program is to create a sustainable and scalable workforce training program in cybersecurity for the electric power system. Hands-on training at Virginia Tech’s cyber-power system security testbed and online instructional modules will be key components of this program. The project will include internships, with a goal of 7-10 a year, and field trips hosted by such industry partners as Dominion Energy. Students will meet industry leaders at the annual meeting of the Virginia Tech Power and Energy Center. Students will also work with industry to align their senior design projects with industry needs in cybersecurity.

To learn more about the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative’s funded projects, visit the webpage.