From DIY to teaching: Virginia educator wins national cybersecurity award


US Department of Education honors Virginia professor with cybersecurity award

From a young age, Kristina Rice loved tinkering with electronics. Whether it’s taking phones apart and putting them back together, or learning all about computers when they come out, Rice has developed a natural talent for technology.

“I’ve always had an interest there,” Rice said.

This childhood interest has recently turned into prestigious national recognition. Rice, a teacher at Spotsylvania High School in Spotsylvania County, became one of two educators nationwide to win the 2021 Presidential Cyber ​​Security Education Award. The other recipient, Sergio de Alba, teaches at the school Miano Primary in Los Banos, California.

According to the US Department of Education, the awardees are selected for their superior achievements as educators, indicators of academic achievement, and leadership contributing to the field of cybersecurity. The recipients also instill three key elements in their students: skills, knowledge and a passion for cybersecurity.

“It’s amazing. I’m very honored to be recognized for such a prestigious award,” said Rice. “To be recognized by so many people is incredible.

Rice’s career did not start with national recognition; it actually started with a lot of hard work and a bit of fate.

The open position becomes an opportunity

After high school, Rice decided to continue tinkering with technology, earning an associate’s degree in information technology (IT) with a minor in information systems. However, the job market had other plans.

Teaching was another of Rice’s passions, and her local school division needed a business teacher. So she got her Bachelor of Commerce and got to work. The career change allowed Rice to teach a cybersecurity course at Spotsylvania High in addition to her major.

“When I first started teaching cybersecurity, I was committed to increasing the participation of under-represented groups, especially women,” Rice said.

During the first semester, a total of 12 female students out of a total of approximately 1,300 students enrolled in the computer-based course. The professor was not discouraged by these figures. Instead, she invested in her students who chose to take the course, ultimately founding Cyber ​​Knights. The program provides students with technical resources to pursue their interests in cybersecurity.

In addition, she also led the Girls Go Cyberstart team, which was made up entirely of female students, to a second place finish at the national championships in 2019 and 2020. Thereafter, the business teacher’s cybersecurity course quickly multiplied attendance.

“It opened the eyes of a lot of the girls here at school because they didn’t know we had the program. [or] classes here, ”Rice said. “I had 12 daughters in the first year [and] 10 of these girls [then] came out and recruited over 100 girls into the school in this first year of teaching cybersecurity.

Teach with passion

“I am very passionate about cybersecurity. As soon as you walk into my room or hear me speak, you can tell how passionate I am, ”Rice said. “So by sharing my passion for cybersecurity with my students, it’s like they catch the virus too. It opens their eyes. It’s like sharing my passion with them and how passionate I am, it’s just contagious.

Rice’s teaching goes beyond her classroom at Spotsylvania High School. She also trains others statewide as an instructor for Virginia Tech’s GenCyber ​​program, which offers cybersecurity summer camp experiences for students and teachers at the K-12 level.

“I assist all the K-12 cybersecurity teachers across the country who attend and work with them on the lessons, on how to find resources, [and] how to implement these activities with their students, ”said Rice.

She has also designed a pace guide for educators teaching cybersecurity fundamentals and offers additional training upon request.

Find resources

For childhood or adolescent tech tinkerers like her, Rice suggested researching local resources to learn more about cybersecurity.

“[Students can] contact their school counselor to see if they can find any programs. Or a simple Google search – you can find so much online; there are so many programs out there, ”Rice said. “Even email me, and I’ll help a kid who wants to find something out about cybersecurity.” ”

She also suggested looking into CyberStart America, a free nationwide program that provides access to an online game that provides a fun and accessible gateway for high school students to explore their cybersecurity skills and learn more about cyber-security. industry and careers. Students can also learn more about cybersecurity scholarships through the program.

“I think it’s just important with the way the world is today, being so technologically driven it’s important that we make people understand that it’s important to be safe online,” Rice said. “It’s important to be careful what you click on. ”


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