Wright State wins Air Force contract to develop cybersecurity workforce

Vance Saunders, director of Wright State’s cybersecurity program, will manage the Assured Digital Microelectronics Education & Training Ecosystem program.

Leading a team of six Ohio academic institutions, Wright State University won an Air Force contract titled Assured Digital Microelectronics Education & Training Ecosystem (ADMETE). The ADMETE contract is worth over $29.75 million for three years, with $9 million released in the first year.

It was awarded in early September and seeks to develop a pipeline of trained undergraduate engineering students with the skills to design and develop digital microelectronic devices and systems.

The goal is to develop a seamless environment of career-long education and training and a timely completion of educational credentials, overcoming any institutional barriers, curricular differences and policy hurdles.

The current ADMETE team consists of Wright State, the University of Akron, Youngstown State, Ohio University, the University of Toledo and Lorain County Community College. As the program grows, other academic institutions are expected to become part of the ADMETE.

The program is being managed by Wright State under the direction of Vance Saunders, director of Wright State’s cybersecurity program in the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

“These computer chips provide the processing power for everything we’re doing in technology right now,” said Saunders. “Most of them are manufactured outside the United States, and we don’t have the infrastructure to manufacture them all ourselves. We need to be able to assess the trustworthiness of this hardware.”

The contract also expands the ongoing research and development of innovative, assured and trusted microelectronics technologies being conducted at Wright State, Youngstown State and the University of Akron.

According to the Department of Defense, commercial state-of-the-art foundries for defense-related, application-specific integrated circuit development may not meet security and trusted computing requirements.

So the Air Force, under the direction of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, is working to ensure that microelectronics systems from commercial foundries are trusted, assured and protected. The effort applies to currently fielded microelectronics no longer in production, microelectronics in production, and next-generation cutting-edge microelectronics in development.

Meeting the demand requires a thriving workforce of digital design engineers with expertise in assured and trusted microelectronic systems. The Air Force says current academic programs across the country are not meeting this need.

“No one has been putting the infrastructure in place to take the results of all this research and train the next-generation workforce in how to use it,” said Saunders.

To populate the pipeline, the Air Force plans to use innovative means in outreach and recruitment and forge close partnerships between institutions of higher education and regional employers.

“There is a lot of work to do,” said Saunders. “And there will be a lot of involvement with government and industry.”

He said the goal is to create a system in which graduating high school seniors would be able to take courses at technical schools, two- and four-year colleges, work as interns with local businesses, and have it all count toward a degree in digital electronics design and development.

The program would likely be part of an electrical engineering, computer engineering or related degree.

Saunders said the funding will be used to hire faculty with expertise in microelectronics, develop a curriculum exciting to students, create new lab spaces and also conduct research into assured and trustworthy microelectronics solutions.

“And there will be a huge marketing effort,” he said. “We need to be screaming about this to every high school student in the state, letting them know about the fun and exciting opportunities in the field of digital microelectronics.”

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