Virginia outranks other states 'NSA Day of Cyber' participation nationwide


Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced the winners of the “NSA Day of Cyber” challenge, an online, interactive tool that allows students in elementary, middle and high school to experiment with different cyber careers.

The challenge spanned about five months — from October to March — and aimed to excite students about potential professions in cybersecurity and related operations. In Virginia, which garnered the highest participation rates nationwide, nearly 7,000 students in 110 schools spent a day in the life of six National Security Agency experts, including a data scientist, an intelligence analyst and a cyber-linguist.

“Virginia’s national leadership in the ‘NSA Day of Cyber’ is proof that our schools and our educators are dedicated to making the Commonwealth a hub of cybersecurity excellence,” said McAuliffe, a Democrat who has made cybersecurity in Virginia a priority under his leadership.

Virginia companies are looking for trained professionals in the field, according to Karen Jackson, its secretary of technology. The state currently has 36,000 unfilled cybersecurity positions, she said.

“We must do everything we can to build a sustainable workforce pipeline capable of meeting industry needs now and into the future,” Jackson said. “The ‘NSA Day of Cyber Challenge’ was a great opportunity for the Commonwealth to provide a ‘no risk’ opportunity for students to explore cyber careers, test their cyber acumen, and hopefully be inspired to pursue a career in a cyber-related field.”

Schools with the highest student participation will receive funding to develop in-house programs, the governor’s office said.

Seven schools across a range of different grade levels recorded more than a quarter of their students participating. The schools include:

  • Battlefield High School – 997 students (37 percent)
  • Mary Williams Elementary School – 542 students (55 percent)
  • Pocahontas Middle School – 540 students (57 percent)
  • Spotsylvania High School – 362 students (30 percent)
  • Heritage High School – 275 students (24 percent)
  • Hamilton Holmes Middle School – 128 students (24 percent)
  • Galax Middle School – 78 students (29 percent)

The state was recognized earlier this month when the NSA designated Virginia Tech as a Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations. Virginia Tech is among 17 other universities recognized for robust cyber programs.