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NSF Grant Aims to Grow and Strengthen Region’s Cybersecurity Workforce

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, higher education institutions have not kept pace with the growing demand for cybersecurity professionals. Old Dominion University recently received a nearly $500,000 project grant from the National Science Foundation aimed at addressing this challenge by helping to increase the number of qualified professionals needed to fill cybersecurity jobs requiring a bachelor's degree.

The three-year project, "Creating Cybersecurity Pathways Between Community Colleges and Universities," builds on the efforts of the ODU-led Hampton Roads Cybersecurity Education, Workforce and Economic Development Alliance to create academic pathways for cybersecurity students to transfer from Tidewater, Thomas Nelson or Northern Virginia community colleges to Old Dominion. The project has the potential to reach more than 2,400 cybersecurity students enrolled in the four institutions.

"The future of cybersecurity education includes a balance of community college graduates and bachelor's degree graduates," said Brian Payne, ODU's vice provost for academic affairs and principal investigator for the project. "The project demonstrates the four institutions' commitment to social mobility."

According to Bureau of Labor statistics, some available cybersecurity jobs can be filled with high school and community college graduates, but many require a bachelor's degree. Formal academic pathways to a four-year university, allow community college students, some of whom are disadvantaged and minority students, to be better-prepared to fill higher-level cybersecurity positions.

"Creating formal pathways between other institutions and ODU is in the best interest of students throughout our entire region," Payne said.

The project goes beyond the issue of access by focusing on student success. It is designed to address common challenges encountered by community college students once they've transferred, such as credit transfers, the lack of clear pathways and isolation at the four-year university. Programming and coordinated efforts among faculty from the institutions will help to address these issues.

"We need to make sure that we aren't unintentionally creating obstacles to success," Payne said.

According to Payne, peer mentors will be used to reduce isolation cybersecurity transfer students might experience; faculty will work to evaluate the impact of cybersecurity competitions for both community college and four-year students; and researchers will survey cybersecurity and other STEM students at the four-year institutions to better understand the dynamics and issues transfer students confront.

"At the end of the day, our goal is to educate our students and put them in a position where they can excel in their future careers," Payne said.

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