Close to 200 cybersecurity educators and partners came together on Aug. 14 and 15 to raise the bar for cybersecurity education in Virginia.

The first-ever Virginia Cybersecurity Education Conference was hosted at James Madison University by the Virginia Cyber Range, a cloud-based educational resource for educators that can be accessed anywhere in Virginia.

“The goal of this gathering was to bring together cybersecurity educators, administrators, and industry partners so that they can share resources and best practices,” said David Raymond, Virginia Cyber Range director. “Virginia is a leader in this space, with several new cybersecurity courses at the high school level. Almost a third of Virginia’s cybersecurity jobs are unfilled; we need to expand opportunities for K-12 students to provide the necessary talent to fill this shortfall.”

The conference theme, Innovative Teaching and Learning in Cybersecurity, got attendees thinking about ways to engage students at all grade levels in hands-on, meaningful educational activities related to cybersecurity.

Virginia Cyber Range team members Nithiwat Kampanya and Aras “Russ” Memisyazici attend the conference reception.

Kampanya and Memisyazici
Virginia Cyber Range team members Nithiwat Kampanya and Aras “Russ” Memisyazici attend the conference reception.

The event also featured a Jeopardy-style capture-the-flag competition, a challenging exercise designed to test participants’ knowledge and skills on a diverse range of computer security problems. The workshops, talks, and panels were organized into four tracks: cyber educational resources, cyber for K-12, cyber workforce, and hot topics. Themes addressed included network defense, secure coding, diversity in cybersecurity, and cyber ethics.

Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni delivered the keynote address on Aug. 15. Qarni emphasized the need to integrate STEM and cybersecurity in K-12 education to better prepare students for future opportunities, and he answered questions from conference attendees.

Atif Qarni
Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni delivers the keynote address. Image courtesy of JMU Creative Media.

A panel of four cybersecurity educators from commonwealth high schools and colleges answered questions about their experiences teaching cybersecurity and using the Virginia Cyber Range. Karen Jackson, CEO of Apogee Strategic Partners and former Virginia secretary of technology, moderated the panel.  

Powhatan High School teacher and faculty panel member Sharon Shadrach spoke of her experience using the Virginia Cyber Range’s courseware repository and exercise area. “It was a lifesaver for us,” Shadrach said. “We would not have a cybersecurity program without the Virginia Cyber Range.”

VACR-Conference-Participant
Irvin Hall, Hampton City Schools educator, and others, attend the keynote address. Image courtesy of JMU Creative Media.

The goal of the Virginia Cyber Range is to build a cybersecurity education community among Virginia institutions, faculty, and others. In addition to the annual Virginia Cybersecurity Education conference, the Virginia Cyber Range convenes teach-the-teacher workshops and works to improve cybersecurity education at consortium institutions and to develop a shared understanding of future needs for cybersecurity education and gaps. This effort is led by an executive committee representing Virginia public institutions that are nationally recognized centers of academic excellence in cybersecurity and is hosted within Virginia Tech’s Division of Information Technology.

Written by Maureen Lawrence-Kuether