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NSF awards UT $1.8 million grant to engage high school students with cybersecurity

Can self-driving cars be hacked?

The University of Toledo will teach more than 2,000 local high school students and teachers how to use mathematics and computational thinking to solve cybersecurity problems in smart vehicles as part of a new $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The three-year federal grant for the INITIATE program, which is officially titled Understanding How Integrated Computational Thinking, Engineering Design, and Mathematics Can Help Students Solve Scientific and Technical Problems in Career Technical Education, funds the partnership between UT, NSF and Toledo Public Schools.

At the end of each year, students compete in a “modern pinewood derby” where each team races a smart vehicle through an obstacle course without another team hacking the vehicle to crash or disable it.

Dr. Jared Oluoch

“This grant is a great step towards preparing a workforce in the United States that focuses on cybersecurity and smart vehicle technology,” said Dr. Jared Oluoch, UT assistant professor of computer science and engineering technology and principal investigator of the project. “The concept of smart vehicles is appealing to high school students because it is a new, intriguing idea. Our goal is to improve algebra and geometry standards among the students and prepare them to pursue STEM disciplines in college.”

The program engages local high school students in how to design and program secure technologies and helps science teachers in grades nine through 12 integrate computational thinking into their curriculum. The project also investigates whether focusing on a specific problem is an effective way to make mathematics more engaging and relevant to students.

The program includes a two-week summer institute for 12 teachers and ongoing academic year meetings designed to assist those teachers in implementing the project into their classrooms with 2,217 students.

“The University’s forward-thinking proposal to the National Science Foundation will put local students in the center of fast-moving smart car technology research and training,” said Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur. “NSF funding will help instill job skills and nurture interest in the sciences and mathematics by immersing students in real world problems such as the next wave of cyber security challenges. The University of Toledo, local schools and the federal government have forged a partnership that will engage young learners in addressing the needs of our legacy, job creating automotive industry and begin preparing them for careers in science, tech, engineering and math-related fields.”

Oluoch oversaw the development of the INITIATE program along with Dr. Charlene Czerniak, professor emeritus of science education and research professor in the UT College of Engineering, and Dr. Ahmad Javaid, assistant professor of computer science in the UT College of Engineering.

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