Grants create new partnership between Radford University and Brazilian institute


Radford University is the recipient of two 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund grants to support an exciting new exchange partnership and the University’s efforts to increase international student enrollment and expand international university partnerships, as defined by the Radford University 2018-2023 Strategic Plan: Embracing the Tradition and Envisioning the Future.

Jeff Pittges, Ph.D., and Prem Uppuluri, Ph.D., professors in the Department of Information Technology, along with Steve Childers, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Management, were awarded two separate $40,000 grants through the Innovation Fund competition to create collaborative, interdisciplinary programs with Universidade Federal de Pernambuco (UFPE) in Brazil, a National Service for Industrial Training (SENAI) supported institute, which is directed by Sergio Soares. UFPE is a large public university located in Recife, the capital of the State of Pernambuco in northeast Brazil.  

Each program will involve cohorts of students and faculty from Radford University and UFPE who will work on projects and take classes together, exchange and gain new technical and entrepreneurial skills, and experience each other’s respective cultures through visits to both Brazil and the United States.

President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., said, “Radford University looks forward to a strong partnership with this outstanding institution in Brazil.  Through our world-class faculty, we are providing students with educational experiences, both at home and abroad, that are second-to-none.”

Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Kenna Colley, Ed.D., added, “I applaud the diligent and visionary work that was put into these grant proposals, as well as the planning to bring together students from Radford University and Brazil.  Through these sustained relationships with faculty and students, we will grow our international population.  This is a positive and intentional step.”

The Innovation Fund is a public-private sector collaboration between the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Embassy in Brazil, Partners of the Americas, NAFSA: Association of International Educators, global companies and international foundations that inspires U.S. colleges and universities to team up with higher education institutions in Latin America to create new exchange and training opportunities.

“Innovation Fund grant-winning partnerships build bridges of connectivity and provide students with critical access to new exchange and training programs to work in teams, gain technical skills, and be better prepared for today’s global workforce,” according to a press release by Partners of the Americas, the organization that recently announced the grant award winners.

One of the grant-winning programs, a collaboration among Uppuluri, Childers and UFPE faculty, is titled “ASIS: Analyzing and Securing IoT (Internet of Things) Systems.”

ASIS will foster research collaboration in the area of security with a focus on IoT devices, which are non-traditional computing devices, such as smart thermostats, smart door locks and webcams.

“The software on these systems was primarily developed for efficient performance of a task and not for security. As these devices become ubiquitous, they have become one of the weaker links when securing computer networks,” Uppuluri explained.

To test the security of these devices, the ASIS team will be tasked with building a novel pedagogical lab called a “Hack House,” a simulation of a smart home environment equipped with IoT devices. This environment will be used to conduct research and provide hands-on activities in cybersecurity.

Two Radford University students with proven cybersecurity skillsets will be paired with four Brazilian students with strong computer science backgrounds for this program. Online collaboration and research will begin in August, and in November, Uppuluri, Childers and the Radford students will travel to UFPE’s campus to connect with the ASIS program participants, as well as visit select incubators and companies in Pernambuco “to better understand their challenges in terms of cybersecurity,” Uppuluri said.

Research will continue into the spring semester. In July 2020, UFPE students will visit Radford University and participate in a one-credit innovation class with Radford students, co-taught by Childers and Uppuluri. The course will challenge students to create and pitch a business plan for a product that will test cybersecurity solutions for IoT devices, based on research conducted during the fall and spring semesters and the entrepreneurial skills gained in the class.

“I am very excited about the opportunity to facilitate the exchange of ideas between the UFPE and Radford students,” Childers said. “Cybersecurity is an international concern. It only makes sense to cooperate with international partners to explore stronger and valuable solutions to the issues we face.”

Students will also travel to Washington, D.C., in July 2020 to visit different companies and experience the cultural aspects of the nation’s capital.

The second grant-winning program, led by Pittges and in collaboration with Childers and UFPE faculty, is titled “Data Science Student Exchange Program.”

This master’s level program, involving two Radford graduate students in the Data and Information Management (DAIM) program and three UFPE graduate students, will tackle actual demands from real industrial partners. In fall 2019, program participants will begin preliminary work on a project related to both companies in the U.S. and Brazil.  In early January 2020, Pittges and the two Radford DAIM students will travel to UFPE to interact with students, faculty, companies and incubators.

Later in January 2020, the Radford team will return to the U.S. with two of the three UFPE student participants. They will first take an “innovation tour” of Washington, D.C., and Richmond, Virginia, then return to Radford for the spring semester to enroll in four graduate courses, totaling 10 credit hours. Students will take nine hours of DAIM courses, and the final credit hour will be earned in Childers’ innovation course.

After the spring semester, the UFPE students will return to Brazil and will be encouraged to take six more credit hours online from Radford. With 15 hours of relevant courses earned from UFPE, they will be eligible for a master’s degree in DAIM from Radford University.

“I believe this is going to be a very attractive incentive to the Brazilian students,” Pittges said. “Our goal is to develop a pipeline for our DAIM program and build upon our already thriving data science pipeline. Ultimately, it is a great opportunity to build relationships with students, faculty and companies in Brazil and identify ways to continue this partnership.”

Although both programs are scheduled to end in late 2020, Uppuluri, Pittges and Childers agree that this is an exciting new endeavor with long-term impact for Radford University as it continues to expand its international outreach.


Jun 11, 2019
Mary Hardbarger
(540) 831-5150