DAYTON, Ohio — It’s no secret that studying cybersecurity can open a lot of doors.

However, one Ohio professor has found a way to tap into learning by making topics hands-on and fun.

A large grant from the National Science Foundation is helping to unlock the potential of a new game called Sticker Heist.

What You Need To Know

  • Sinclair Community College receives $646,000 for Sticker Heist game development and expansion.

  • Game developed by Computer Science professor Mike Libassi.

  • Students use Sticker Heist to learn cybersecurity essentials.

Mike Libassi is a computer science professor at Sinclair Community College and developed the game.

In 2018, when he began working on the game, it was just a plastic art box, but now it’s come a long way.

The Sticker Heist game is a fully self-contained network security system.

“Protecting a box full of stickers which you have to hack into to get your prize,” said Libassi.

During the process of hacking into it, you can learn basic cybersecurity and IT essentials.

“Also, it’s how to think like the attacker, which is a very important point when becoming a defender,” Libassi added.

Sticker Heist has become one of his favorite classroom additions.

“It’s exciting because I like seeing it when the students get their hands on it and that’s the best part. Seeing them interact and think outside the box, no pun intended, to find ways to break into this and along that process, learn those cybersecurity skills,” he said.

Recently, the college has received more than $646,000 in grant funding from the National Science Foundation to help expand the game and research.

One of the biggest items from the grant money is a new 3D printer.

“This will allow us to prototype a few designs and when we get just the right one, we’re going to have it mass-produced,” Libassi said as he opened the printer box.

When he’s not unpacking all the new gear, Libassi is back in class.

You don’t have to ask his students twice to give the game another shot.

“Think of this as an Escape Room and instead of breaking out, you’re breaking in and the prize is laptop stickers,” said Libassi.

Unlocking clues gets you in and unlocks even more.

Students like Kristin Kudel enjoy hands-on learning when it comes to cybersecurity.

“A lot of the stuff you learn in here is in the textbook in general. It’s a lot nicer to see a system,” said Kudel.

Kudel just got a new job working in tech and is excited to see her professor’s work paying off.

“It’s very cool to see our teacher getting supported for that and being able to participate in it,” said Kudel.

The goal of the three-year grant is to get more people in Southwest Ohio qualified to do cybersecurity work.

The game’s hardware and curriculum will go through different processes and Sticker Heist will eventually be made available to K-12 schools and programs.

“This is the reason why I love teaching. It comes to fruition, it brings a passion project to the students who also like it and they learn from it. So it’s very fulfilling,” Libassi said.

Sinclair Community College will work with community partners to spread the game, like the Dayton Regional STEM Center.

Moraine Valley Community College outside of Chicago is a sub-recipient of the grant.