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CIRI summer interns, research team conduct research on DHS mission-relevant areas


Ashley Albrecht, CIRI

The Critical Infrastructure Resilience Institute, a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence housed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, hosted five students from Howard University and Florida International University as part of the CIRI Summer Internship Program. Additionally, CIRI hosted a research team of one faculty member and two students from the University of Texas at El Paso through the DHS Summer Research Team (SRT) Program for Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). 

The internship program exposes students to research in DHS mission-relevant areas under the guidance of an Illinois faculty member.

For example, Johnny W. Carter, Jr., a Howard University computer science PhD student, worked with Prof. Tarek Abdelzaher to utilize sentiment analysis in combination with clustering to group individuals based on data from social media (in this case, Twitter). Carter, who served in the U.S. Army and has a background in military intelligence, found that the research methods he used are feasible for behavioral surveillance.  Post-internship, Carter intends to continue his research with Abdelzaher, a Willett Faculty Scholar and professor of computer science.

Alexander Monaco of Florida International University (FIU) says the experience makes him want to “definitely work with DHS” in the future. Monaco wrote a computer game, called “Castle Keep” (a tower defense game), to provide an alternative visualization of security concepts. A gamification of network administration, Castle Keep is a tool that could be used both to train network administrators and to make their jobs easier, says Monoco, who noted that the internship was very exciting and gave him a new perspective on the culture within DHS.

Beyond the research experience, a series of lectures introduced interns to a variety of professional development topics, including “Ethics in  Research,” “CV/Resume Development,” and “Imposter Syndrome Workshop.”  To cap off the program, the interns showcased their research at the annual CIRI/Information Trust Institute Summer Intern Poster Session in August. 

The University of Texas at El Paso team, funded by the DHS SRT Program for MSIs, focused on the resiliency of transportation infrastructure.  The team was led by UTEP Professor of Civil Engineering Dr. Vivek Tandon, whose work focuses on computational modeling of infrastructure systems as well as resilient & sustainable infrastructure development. Tandon’s student, Angel A. Rodarte, a senior majoring in civil engineering, developed a decision-making framework for enhancing climate resiliency of transportation infrastructure.  

Specifically, Rodarte studied the impact of hydrometeorological changes on the performance of Illinois roads, using climate data from the North American Regional Climate Change Assessment Program (NARCCAP). Rodarte plans to obtain a graduate degree and work for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). Tandon’s other student, Jorge Navarrete, is a graduate student in the civil engineering department. For his project, Navarrete produced a conceptual resilience framework for transportation infrastructure. As a case study, Navarrete used his framework to assess the risk from a high impact hurricane on the Pensacola Bay Bridge (Pensacola, FL). Navarrete aims to get certified as a professional engineer (PE), so that he may continue designing resilient structures.

For more information about these programs, please go here.