Research & Innovation

Stevens Research Attracts Broad NSF Support for Innovation, Education

A string of recent National Science Foundation (NSF) awards have trained a national spotlight on Stevens research in key areas including cybersecurity, privacy, driver safety and STEM education.

Computer science professor Susanne Wetzel will serve as principal investigator for a cybersecurity project awarded more than $3.2 million to continue Stevens' participation in the CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service (SFS) program that prepares cybersecurity professionals to enter the government workforce.

The award, granted to a four-member Stevens faculty team, will support 14 scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students pursuing cybersecurity-focused degree programs at Stevens. Recipients will be placed post-graduation in federal, state and local government organizations.

"We’re excited that we have once again been selected as an SFS scholarship site, attesting to the quality of our students and programs," notes Wetzel. "Once again, this grant provides us with the opportunity to produce well-educated cybersecurity professionals who can help protect the nation's critical cyber-infrastructure."

Graduates from the program have previously joined government entities including the FBI, MITRE, the Federal Reserve and Sandia National Laboratories. 

The grant also provides funding for Stevens' faculty and students to participate in the NSF-funded project INSuRE, a research partnership among ten Centers of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Research, the National Security Agency (NSA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other federal agencies.

Stevens senior research associate and director of diversity and inclusion Susan Metz will serve as principal investigator on a three-year, $825,000 project supported by NSF's Division of Undergraduate Education to incorporate mobile learning opportunities with a tested spatial skills curriculum to improve student retention in technical fields. The project will build upon work Metz has carried out under Engage Engineering, a six-year NSF grant-funded project to extend spatial visualization skills assessment and training, among other research-based retention strategies, into in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

Strong spatial-visualization skills, particularly the ability to visualize in three dimensions, are linked to success STEM careers. Significant disparities exist among women, underrepresented minorities and lower socioeconomic groups in spatial-skills test performance and are most evident in mental rotation, an important skill in engineering. Poor performance on spatial-visualization tasks can directly affect perceptions of self-efficacy and GPA in courses such as engineering graphics, calculus, chemistry and computer science.

Metz's award will enable greater access by students to a spatial skills training curriculum developed by collaborating researchers at Michigan Tech that can lead to marked improvements in retention of the skills.

Stevens researchers Jeffrey Nickerson, a Howe School professor and director of the Center for Decisions Technologies, and industry professor John Nastasi, director of the Product-Architecture and Engineering program, received a $499,000 award to support their joint project proposal "Collective Design through Remixing."

The project is centered around three-dimensional online printing communities, and will enable 'makers' (expert amateur designers) to innovate, share, modify, combine and print designs or components that will be used to construct shelters after natural disasters. Nickerson and Nastasi will bring makers together with professional engineers, architects and fabricators through a forthcoming innovation competition, in which participants will design direct-print components that can rapidly deploy shelters and other temporary structures during emergencies.

The competition will be juried by an advisory panel of makers, professional designers and emergency-aid organizations. The Stevens researchers aim to develop new technologies that aid the sharing and innovation process while also sparking fresh collaborations among professional designers, fabricators and makers — groups that rarely work side-by-side in online settings.

Nickerson also received a second $399,000 NSF award for collaborative research to be performed with MIT Sloan School of Management. The MIT/Stevens team will focus on ways of organizing online communities to solve large-scale social problems. The organizational forms to be studied are examples of open innovation, a process through which crowds and members of online communities are encouraged to share, modify and combine each others’ ideas in the service of collective goals.

Yingying Chen, a research expert in wireless networks and smartphone applications, received two new NSF awards to serve as principal investigator on projects in smartphone application privacy leakage and driver safety while using mobile devices. The privacy project will address growing privacy concerns by detecting, modeling and visualizing the personal data that 'leaks' from smartphone apps in real time. It will also touch upon the personal, psychological and social factors and consequences related to privacy leakage.

Chen's driver-safety research will expand upon and refine her previous work toward the development of a 'guardian angel' system in drivers' smartphones that can intervene and prevent distracting texting and other behaviors that contribute to some of the nation's 30,000 annual traffic fatalities.

Chen will collaborate with Rutgers University's Wireless Information Network Laboratory (WINLAB), Florida State University and Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, among other parties, during performance of the two research projects.