UALR researchers tackle cybersecurity education with NSF grant

Dr. Mengjun Xie head shot. Xie will help launch a new cybersecurity program at UALR.

A team of researchers at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock is giving cybersecurity education a much-needed upgrade, thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation.

While news reports of large-scale cyberattacks and breaches have become commonplace, the cybersecurity field lacks readily available training, which has resulted in a shortage of skilled workers.

The $276,424 NSF grant will enable the UALR team to develop a platform for high school and college competition and education that’s designed to improve cybersecurity throughout the country.

Led by UALR Associate Professor of Computer Science Dr. Mengjun Xie, researchers will use the grant funds to create PROMISE, a cohesive system of free resources designed for multiple levels of cybersecurity learners.

PROMISE’s features have two main goals — to improve the quality of national cybersecurity education and to equip students to be exemplary professionals in the field.

The program’s flexible, easily accessible curriculum is intended to make getting a quality education in cybersecurity possible for countless students.

As a designated National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance/Cybersecurity Education, UALR is well-equipped to launch the platform.

Xie is joined by co-principal investigator Dr. Kenji Yoshigoe, professor of computer science and department chair; Dr. Chia-Chu Chiang, professor of computer science; Dr. Shucheng Yu, assistant professor of computer science; and Dr. Amy Sedivy-Benton, assistant professor of teacher education.

Dr. Kenji Yoshigoe head shot
Dr. Kenji Yoshigoe

PROMISE will offer engaging learning modules that can be implemented in high school and college classrooms. These lessons will cover basic principles for cybersecurity beginners as well as rigorous training for cybersecurity competitions and the stages of learning in between.

Each learning module will include four levels of content to engage and serve people with different backgrounds and interests.

The virtual PROMISE space will house labs that will enable visitors to conduct experiments and collaborate with others.

In the cybersecurity world, collaboration often means healthy competition. National competitions take place regularly.

PROMISE will cater to this culture in an unprecedented way, the researchers said in their project proposal:

“The platform is novel in that it will support competitions of different styles as well as hands-on puzzles and labs, all in the same style, which makes PROMISE a versatile facility for both security competition and general security education.”

In addition to creating and sharing the virtual platform, the UALR team will host a variety of outreach events, including a workshop, competitions, and high school and college visits.

Team members plan to collaborate with the National Guard Professional Education Center in Little Rock, Pulaski Technical College, and Catholic High School during the PROMISE evaluation period. After the project is completed, it will be free and available to the public.

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