Virginia Governor Issues Cyber Challenge to Students

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe Steve Helber/AP

The school with the highest participation through March 2017 will win a cash prize to fund its cybersecurity programs.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued a challenge to get the commonwealth's students interested in cybersecurity careers.

The governor Oct. 28 issued a statewide challenge to see which schools could rack up the most participation in NSA Day of Cyber, an online platform that allows students to explore National Security Agency careers and tools. The school with the highest participation through March 2017 will win a cash prize to fund its cybersecurity programs.

The NSA Day of Cyber platform launched last year as a turn-key product that allows educators to add cybersecurity into their curricula without investment or teacher training, according to Kim Paradise, vice president of partnerships for LifeJourney and program executive director. LifeJourney powers the platform while NSA’s sponsorship allows students free access.

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“The basic overall goal is to raise the national cyber IQ and to find cyber professionals of the future,” Paradise told Nextgov. First, the program aims to raise awareness of different types of cyber jobs and then perhaps entice students to fill the global shortage in those fields.

“It’s meant to inspire early,” she said.

Students select from six NSA mentors with cyber careers such as vulnerability analyst or capability dev specialist and then they work through various scenarios. The platform doesn’t test students’ current cyber skills. Instead, it highlights the soft and hard skills each career path requires and shares what classes students may want to take to have their virtual mentors’ jobs.

NSA Day of Cyber has partnerships with middle schools, high schools and colleges around the country, but the Virginia program is its first statewide challenge. Virginia alone has 17,000 open cyber jobs, McAuliffe told Route Fifty in July, and he wants to fill those vacancies by getting kids interested in those fields in the K-12 grades, not college.  

“It is important that students are being introduced to in-demand sectors like cybersecurity to spark interest in the field and prepare them for success in the new Virginia economy,” McAuliffe said in a statement. “It is my goal to make Virginia a national hub for cybersecurity careers and exploration, and the ‘Day of Cyber’ School Challenge will help introduce more of our students to this cutting-edge field.”