2022 2022: National Science Foundation awards Professor Hong Liu $79K
National Science Foundation awards Professor Hong Liu $79K

In response to evolving cybersecurity challenges, Dr. Liu and collaborators will pilot a model for the co-creation of cross-disciplinary educational content to help prepare students for success in the workforce.

Hong Liu
Dr. Hong Liu is a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UMass Dartmouth.

The future engineering workforce will require technology to be adapted and applied in solving complex problems with experts from diverse fields. To support students in acquiring these skills, graduate curricula can benefit from designing educational modules that are accessible to students in different disciplines and that identify how they contribute to their field as well as integrate emerging business needs.

Dr. Hong Liu, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UMass Dartmouth, and Dr. Trina Kershaw, Professor of Psychology, have received a $79,548 award for their collaborative research project “IGE: Graduate Education in Cyber-Physical Systems Engineering.” This National Science Foundation (NSF) Innovations in Graduate Education (IGE) award to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and the University of Massachusetts Lowell with a total monetary amount of approximately $442,000 will pilot a model for co-creation of cross-disciplinary educational content by teams of graduate students, research advisors, instructors, and industry practitioners.

The educational model is prototyped using a case study of Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) relevant across a wide range of industries spanning manufacturing, healthcare, transportation, green energy, and smart system-based environmental monitoring sectors. The innovative project applies evidence-based practices from education research to demonstrate how the curriculum can be inclusive in engaging and educating a diverse student body by involving graduate students in co-creating technical content. 

Security issues loom large due to valuable data collected and mission-critical applications executed by CPS. Cybersecurity has already become a large and essential discipline. However, CPS security brings additional dimensions due to the cyber-physical applications and the societal complexities. “The best practice includes security design during the entire lifecycle of a CPS, rather than aftermath patchwork,” explains Liu who specializes in both CPS and cybersecurity and is collaborating with MITRE and other UMass researchers on the security assessment of CPS applications.

“In addition to performance efficiency, this project will meet the challenges to security assurance. The lessons learned from CPS security are widely applicable, such as the Product Lifecycle Management project conducted by the other co-creation group of our NSF-IGE team.” Liu further explains that CPS, such as driverless vehicles and continuous glucose monitors, bring convenient and high-quality services to the public. “Their pervasive and autonomic natures, however, expand attacking surface. Therefore, it is paramount for engineers to secure CPS,” she says.

Security threats such as phishing emails and ransomware attacks are prevalent in day-to-day situations. Cybersecurity awareness for people to embrace security practices both professionally and personally sets the first line of defense. Dr. Trina Kershaw, Professor of Psychology at UMass Dartmouth and an expert in cognitive psychology, is advising the team for knowledge transfer in educational settings. Graduate students on their theses research and in several courses of Electrical and Computer Engineering can be involved in co-creating the teaching materials with advisors and instructors. Both graduates and undergraduates can also participate in the assessment of the materials co-created.

Many of the students who will be part of the project are already pursuing cybersecurity as well as cross-disciplinary knowledge as part of their academic experience. The UMassD Cybersecurity Education Club, advised by Liu since its founding in 2014, welcomes students from all disciplines to participate. The club’s main mission is to raise public awareness of cybersecurity by educating the UMassD community on the best practice in cyberspace and exploring modern technology for security defense. “Cybersecurity is a never-ending war involving people from all walks of life. CPS expand the frontline with intelligent devices and machines. Engineers must prepare themselves with cross-disciplinary technical competence and societal ethics capability to face the security challenges. Cybersecurity becomes effective only when everyone takes responsibility in work and at home,” says Liu.