The need for evolving technical capabilities of defense systems and complex networks is increasingly more important to protect national security, but the cybersecurity workforce to develop these emerging technologies is lacking.

Nationally, there is a critical shortage of qualified cyber professionals, with approximately 600,000 cyber jobs available and more than 53,000 positions open in the Commonwealth of Virginia, according to Cyber Seek.

In working toward closing the cybersecurity workforce gap, Virginia Tech has been awarded $1.5 million to engage undergraduate and graduate students from a variety of academic backgrounds enrolled in ROTC and other programs oriented to careers in defense and security. 

The Griffiss Institute, which administers the Virtual Institutes for Cyber and Electromagnetic Spectrum Research and Employ program for the Department of Defense, selected Virginia Tech to lead the program called the Cybersecurity Research and Advanced Training of ROTC Students (CREATORS) Virtual Institute. Virginia Tech will partner with Old Dominion University and Norfolk State University, both of which are minority-serving institutions. 

“As a senior military college, the establishment of a new Virginia Tech-led cybersecurity program leverages the strengths of our existing expertise in cybersecurity and related disciplines, but intentionally extends our reach to a variety of students that will allow us to diversify the tech-talent workforce and, more specifically, the development of our nation’s intelligence and defense communities,” said Eric Paterson, executive director of the Virginia Tech National Security Institute.

The multi-university initiative will provide students opportunities to participate in experiential learning programs, summer internship experiences, and applied research projects to address the complex cyber environment and cultivate a diverse pipeline of cyber talent. 

The CREATORS Virtual Institute will bring together cross-university student teams that will learn about cybersecurity challenges and technology through a year-long project experience. The first teams will launch this fall with applications being solicited in the coming weeks. 

“The defense landscape is driven by increased computing and software-defined capabilities, wireless systems, and increasing network connectivity that requires the ability to process and learn from cybersecurity data artifacts and translate cybersecurity vulnerabilities into actions with operational impact,” said Peter Beling, professor in the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering and associate director of the Intelligent Systems Division in the Virginia Tech National Security Institute who is also the principal investigator. “The future workforce needs to be better prepared to understand these vulnerabilities, work through them in relevant operational contexts, and leverage data to improve outcomes.” 

"Although cybersecurity and intelligent defense have been the key areas for enhanced national technology and security, there has been a significant shortage for trained workforce in this domain across national labs, industry, and academia,” said Jin-Hee Cho, associate professor of computer science and the director of Trustworthy Cyberspace Lab. “CREATORS will provide students with strong cybersecurity and defense knowledge and transdisciplinary experiences in developing innovative solutions for cyber problems." 

Cho is a co-principal investigator of this project along with Ehren Hill, associate director for education and outreach at the Virginia Tech Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security and Technology. The Virginia Tech team is partnering with faculty members Yen-Hung (Frank) Hu and Mary Ann Hoppa; both from Norfolk State University; and Hongyi Wu and Chunsheng Xin; both from Old Dominion University.

The establishment of the virtual institute builds on Virginia Tech’s momentum in cybersecurity education and research. This past fall, Virginia Tech announced the formation of its National Security Institute, aspiring to become the nation's preeminent academic organization at the nexus of interdisciplinary research, technology, policy, and talent development to advance national security. 

Recently, Virginia Tech received a $2.8 million grant from the Department of Defense to continue developing the Department of Defense (DoD) Senior Military College Cyber Institute (SMC2I), for a second year.

Virginia Tech also leads two substantial cybersecurity initiatives with unique investments by the commonwealth that provide a strong foundation of cybersecurity education, expertise, and innovative research at the university. 

The Virginia Tech led Commonwealth Cyber Initiative is a highly connected network that engages institutions of higher education, industry, government, and non-governmental and economic development organizations that launched in 2020 with a $20 million investment from the state. The initiative connects regional nodes across the commonwealth, each led by an institution of higher education, which are designed to be vibrant centers of research, learning, and innovation tailored to their local ecosystem. 

Also funded by the state of Virginia, the Virginia Cyber Range was created in July 2016 with the mission to provide resources for cybersecurity education to public high schools and colleges across the state in an effort to jump-start the pipeline of qualified cybersecurity experts needed to fill tens of thousands of jobs in Virginia. Since then, the range has grown to support over 30,000 students and faculty at approximately 300 high schools, community colleges, and universities in Virginia.

Additionally, Virginia Tech is a National Security Agency Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research and Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations, and an Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence. The university participates in federal scholarship programs including the National Science Foundation and Office of Personnel Management’s Cybercorps Scholarship for Service and the Department of Defense Cybersecurity Scholarship Program.

Related links:

Virginia Tech launches National Security Institute; Eric Paterson appointed executive director

Virginia Tech receives $2.8 million grant from the Department of Defense; Stephanie Travis named director of Senior Military College Cyber Institute

Department of Defense awards Virginia Tech $1.5 million to prepare students for cybersecurity careers

National security program provides training for Washington, D.C., professionals

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