By Mary Hardbarger
Radford University launched an innovative new competency-based education (CBE) program in October that will position the University as a national leader in training working professionals for high-demand occupations.
The groundbreaking program, called Innovative Mobile Personalized Accelerated Competency Training (IMPACT), is the first of its kind among four-year public institutions in Virginia. The program’s goal is to increase the skills of the Commonwealth’s diverse workforce.
IMPACT officially launched on Oct. 1 with an initial focus on cybersecurity. This spring, the program expanded to include geospatial intelligence. IMPACT was also recently awarded $13.9 million from the U.S. Department of Education to use this same online, self-paced CBE approach to provide professional development training to 5,000 general education teachers and administrators throughout Appalachia.
IMPACT is aligned with the CBE approach, which teaches specific job-related skills needed to perform a critical task in the workplace. The program offers a non-traditional teaching learning approach that breaks away from 14-week semesters and other time-based models. The program is delivered online in an asynchronous, self-paced manner and is available through a fixed annual license. IMPACT training also prepares students to take professional certification exams.
IMPACT is available to Radford University’s strategic partners that range from public, private and global companies to government localities. Partnerships will continue to grow as IMPACT advances.
Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe visited Radford University’s campus to introduce the ambitious endeavor to more than 550 guests at the IMPACT launch event on Sept. 8. He spoke of the growing threat of cyber-attacks in Virginia and across the United States.
“This is the biggest threat that we face as a state and a nation,” McAuliffe said. “So it was important that Virginia be the leader in cybersecurity, and we are.”
McAuliffe said that Virginia has 650 cybersecurity companies, more than any other state. Virginia also has more data centers than any other state, and more than 60 percent of the world’s Internet traffic goes through Ashburn, Virginia. As these companies continue to grow and expand, so, too, does the demand for cybersecurity professionals.
He called higher education institutions, including Radford University, the “connective tissue” that will train students with the skills they need to fill these in-demand cybersecurity jobs.
“We are now the leaders,” he said. “We’ve got the jobs, and I want to thank all of the folks here, because now we have to train armies and armies of cyber warriors. You are at the forefront … You are leading the country, you’re making Virginia proud, you’re building a new economy in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and you are giving all of these students a key to success so that they can provide for their families and participate in the American dream.”
President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., congratulated the IMPACT team, led by executive director Matt Dunleavy, Ph.D., and said the program is a key example of the University “focusing on innovation and being responsive to societal needs.”
“Indeed, today is a new day for our University,” Hemphill said. “We are a University that will forever be rooted in our strong tradition of teaching and learning. But, we are also a University that has a resilient drive to innovate and a desire to be on the cutting edge. With this first-of-its-kind program in the Commonwealth, Radford University will continue to be a leader.”
IMPACT is a collaborative effort among faculty, instructional designers and industry experts to ensure the content is rigorous, engaging and directly aligned with industry needs. “The IMPACT Lab is a team effort and the result of strong collaboration with Radford University’s outstanding faculty. We are thrilled to be working with such a talented group of professionals to meet the workforce development needs of the Commonwealth,” Dunleavy said.
A recent IMPACT Lab partner is the TRGroup, which serves 800 credit unions in seven different states. The IMPACT Lab will provide cybersecurity training to the associated credit unions’ staff to ensure the assets of all of the credit unions are protected against cyber crime.
Among the IMPACT team is Prem Uppuluri, Ph.D., director of the Center for Information Security at Radford University and lead professor for the cybersecurity curriculum for IMPACT. “For IMPACT, we took the established center for academic excellence program of study in cybersecurity in the Department of Information Technology and tailored it with intensive, hands-on experiences to provide a corporate level experience,” said Uppuluri.
ManTech representative Kent Warren ’91, president of commercial services, said IMPACT will “blend real-world experience into academics.”
“From a business perspective, anytime we can team up with an industry, including higher education institutions, and bring real-life, hard skills and training, that’s a win for everybody,” Warren said.
Warren, who formerly served on the Radford University Foundation Board of Directors, believes IMPACT will drive jobs in the New River Valley and beyond.
“Right now, there is a high concentration of the cybersecurity skill set in Northern Virginia,” Warren said. “IMPACT is going to help expand this knowledge base right here in Southwest Virginia.”
Jagat Dhami, M.S. ’18, served as a data analyst among the team of Radford University administrators, faculty and students who helped make IMPACT a reality.
“I believe IMPACT will provide a great outreach to the community,” Dhami said. “Our goal is to make connections and work with industry leaders.”
“The opportunity to work with IMPACT to meet the workplace needs of the geospatial intelligence community has been a great experience for me and the Department of Geospatial Science. IMPACT’s innovative approach to teaching is resulting in some great educational products,” said Andrew Foy, Ph.D., associate professor of geospatial science and director of Radford University’s GIS Center.