UVA partners with the Department of Virginia


Professors at the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Virginia have secured a $ 3 million grant to lead a network of universities in Virginia, in partnership with the Virginia Department of Elections, in creating a innovative educational program to train future cybersecurity professionals to protect electoral infrastructure. .

The Virginia Cyber ​​Navigator program will consist of a new course on election cybersecurity that will be offered to university students in Virginia next spring, followed by internships that will give students hands-on experience supporting information systems in localities in Virginia, especially critical infrastructure used during elections.

The Virginia Department of Elections, with input from localities, will inform the course schedule to ensure alignment with industry recommended system safety standards. UVA will lead the deployment of the program through the network of partner universities and handle the administrative tasks associated with the grant.

Daniel Persico, director of information for the Virginia Department of Elections, manages the project for the Commonwealth of Virginia. He has been overseeing election technology and security in Virginia since 2019.

“Virginia is leading the way in cybersecurity and elections. This program is a demonstration of innovation that not only solves real-world problems, but also provides hands-on training for our future cybersecurity professionals, ”said Persico. “The program will go a long way in supporting the communities in which we live and work in the face of the threats that continually emerge. Staying one step ahead of cyber adversaries is our goal.

The UVA Engineering team includes Jack Davidson, professor of computer science; Daniel G. Graham, assistant professor of computer science; Deborah G. Johnson, Anne Shirley Carter Olsson Emeritus Professor of Applied Ethics and Acting Chair of the Department of Engineering and Society; Digne Martin, associate professor of computer science; and Angela Orebaugh, assistant professor of computer science.

The UVA-led academic network includes George Mason University, Norfolk State University, Old Dominion University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Virginia Tech.

“Technology is becoming central to public services other than utilities, communications and transportation. The computer systems used to manage elections are also critical infrastructure, ”said Davidson, who leads UVA Engineering’s cyber defense studies program. “It is important to build up a pool of IT specialists ready to take the plunge to support local governments which are rapidly integrating cybertechnologies. “

The grant comes from the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity program – within the National Security Agency – which promotes academic excellence for institutions that equip cybersecurity personnel to protect critical infrastructure. UVA received the National Center of University Excellence in Cyber ​​Defense and National Center of University Excellence in Cyber ​​Research designations in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

The grant highlights the long-standing strength of AVU’s cybersecurity program and experiential learning opportunities, which enable UVA to train some of the country’s most sought-after cybersecurity professionals.

At the heart of the new Virginia Cyber ​​Navigator program is the prerequisite course for entering internship students. Officials from the Virginia Department of Elections are working with partners in the university network to finalize the course curriculum, which will be titled “Cybersecurity and Elections.” The course will be offered at all six universities in spring 2022 and will teach basic skills to identify and secure vulnerabilities in software systems used to support elections.

Students from across the state who complete ‘Cybersecurity and Elections’ will gather at AVU to participate in a multi-day boot camp – with faculty, members of the Election Department, and industry advisors – for intensive pre-course preparation. Then, in the summer of 2022, students will work as integrated teams in various locations across Virginia, supported by academic advisors, to learn from the locations and help them improve their safety.

As part of the multi-year grant, the Virginia Cyber ​​Navigator Program will be revised based on observations made in the field. Student interns will play a key role in this process by meeting at AVU in the fall of 2022 to share lessons learned during their work with communities in Virginia. Members of the university network, along with government and industry advisers, will use the feedback to refine the program, which will be offered again in spring 2023.

UVA Engineering has a long-standing focus on research and education that analyze the implications of technology for society, including through initiatives such as the UVA Cyber ​​Innovation and Society Institute. Co-led by Davidson and Johnson, the institute seeks to anticipate the impacts of emerging cybertechnologies in order to support projects and education that promote the use of technology in a way that benefits society.

“A major impetus for the course offering is to give students, many of whom will go on to careers in the public sector, the chance to engage in civic-minded technology projects,” Davidson said. “Opportunities to collaborate with government leaders on behalf of the local community are an essential part of learning how to deploy technologies that serve the public good. ”

Davidson is a member of the Commonwealth Cyber ​​Initiative, or CCI, and notes that the program also supports CCI’s mission of developing the cybersecurity workforce.

The Virginia Cyber ​​Navigator Program should become a model for the nation. The course syllabus and additional materials will be shared and open source, so that universities in other states can adapt the curriculum and offer it to their students.


About the UVA School of Engineering and Applied Science: As a member of the top ranked and comprehensive University of Virginia, UVA Engineering is one of the oldest and most respected engineering schools in the country. Our mission is to make the world a better place by creating and disseminating knowledge and preparing future leaders in engineering. Outstanding students and faculty around the world choose UVA Engineering because of our growing and internationally recognized education and research programs. AVU is the No. 1 public engineering school in the country for the percentage of female graduates, among schools with at least 75 graduates; among the best public engineering schools in the United States for undergraduate four-year graduation rate; and the best public engineering school in the country for doctorate rate. growth in registrations since 2015. Learn more about engineering.virginia.edu.

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