Radford University awarded NSA grant to boost cybersecurity outreach

Given the ubiquitous nature of technology, we want to make cyber-awareness and security skills as much a second-nature to a new generation of students as reading and writing skills."    

Prem Uppuluri, coordinator of Radford University's Center for Information Security

Radford University is the recipient of a $140,250 National Security Agency (NSA) grant that will enhance the university’s robust cybersecurity outreach.

Titled “Pathways in Cybersecurity at Radford University,” the grant follows five additional NSA grants that have enabled the university to take the lead in training kindergarten through 12th-grade (K-12) level educators and students in cybersecurity since 2013. The grant is part of the research efforts underway in the Center for Information Security at Radford University to use novel pedagogical techniques to spark a passion for cybersecurity among middle-school to undergraduate students.

Professor Prem Uppuluri, coordinator  of the Center for Information Security, along with Professor Joe Chase, are leading the first efforts in Virginia to incorporate cybersecurity into Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) education at the elementary through high-school level (K-12). With the latest grant, the university will collaborate with Ellen Denny, curriculum coordinator for Radford City Public Schools; Rebecca Onuskanich, the founder of the National Cyberwarrior Princess program; and more than 20 teachers in K-8 schools and 50 teachers in 9-12 across the state to create cyber-focused lesson plans, assessments and SOLs at each grade level and provide them with the necessary knowledge and skills to teach security. Undergraduate students in cybersecurity at Radford will take part in this project as research assistants.

“Our goal is simple: given the ubiquitous nature of technology, we want to make cyber-awareness and security skills as much a second-nature to a new generation of students as reading and writing skills,” Uppuluri explained.

Such intentional and innovative training would ideally motivate students to consider cybersecurity careers, which are in high demand. Virginia alone currently has 36,000 job openings in the field.

“Imagine the recruitment pipeline of potential, highly-motivated Information Technology majors this will create,” Uppuluri said.

The Pathways in Cybersecurity grant will also continue the university’s efforts to teach cybersecurity to K-12 teachers. Chase and Uppuluri worked on Virginia Department of Education-sponsored panels to develop new curriculum in cybersecurity for K-12 school systems. The panel’s work resulted in the development of two official cybersecurity courses for Virginia state public schools: Cybersecurity Fundamentals and Cybersecurity Software Operations, Advanced.

“We will use this experience to ensure that teachers who go through our program will have the knowledge and skills to teach these courses,” Uppuluri said.

More than 50 teachers are expected to be supported through the Pathways in Cybersecurity grant. To give perspective, Uppulrui explained, “With this number, we will have taught almost 100 teachers in K-12 in Virginia over the last two years.”

The Pathways in Cybersecurity grant is a welcome addition to Radford University’s rich resume of cybersecurity accreditations and initiative. These include the creation of the multiple award-winning Cyber Defense Club in 2012. The university offers a dual enrollment course for high school students in cybersecurity and hosts the RUSecure CTF Contest for high school and community college students. The RUSecure CTF Contest will be offered for the fifth time this year providing education, motivation, competition and scholarships to the participating teams.

In 2016, the university was designated as a Center of Academic Excellence in cyber defense by the NSA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In addition to its acclaimed Department of Information faculty, staff, students and undergraduate and graduate degree programs and curricula, the university also offers a Department of Defense (DoD) 8140 compliant undergraduate certificate in Information Security that prepares students to meet tomorrow’s cybersecurity challenges by covering five of the seven domains defined in the NICE Cybersecurity Workforce Framework.

Just this month, the university introduced a new competency-based education program with a goal of increasing the skills of the Commonwealth’s diverse workforce. The groundbreaking program, called Innovative Mobile Personalized Accelerated Competency Training (IMPACT), is the first of its kind among four-year public institutions in Virginia. IMPACT will officially begin Oct. 1 with an initial focus on cybersecurity.

Sep 25, 2017
Mary Hardbarger
(540) 831-5150