SPOTSYLVANIA, Va. — In a place where some communities do not have Internet access, cybersecurity education is thriving thanks in part to Kristi Rice’s efforts over the past three years. As a CyberHero, Kristi is part of SynED’s series highlighting cybersecurity educators who quietly go above and beyond to enrich the educational experience for their students and empower the country’s next generation of cyber professionals.
Rice began her teaching career five years ago as Spotsylvania High School’s Business and IT teacher, teaching a variety of classes on basic computer and business skills. Today, she focuses solely on cybersecurity education and advises the school’s Cyber Knights team. The Cyber Knights provides students interested in cybersecurity the technical resources needed to engage and advance their computer security knowledge and skills. Their monthly meetings offer discussions and hands-on practice of cybersecurity concepts like: network security, digital forensics, penetration testing, secure coding, cryptography, and reverse engineering. The club members enter competitions with other cyber clubs in CTF’s (Capture the Flag) or Hackathons.
From the early days, Rice saw the importance of bringing women into cybersecurity and focused her efforts on creating a team for the Girls Go Cyberstart, a national organization that hosts cyber capture-the-flag competitions for teams across the country.
“When I told them it’s just for girls, about 15 of the 20 girls in my classes were really into it,” Rice said. “I told them we were going to throw a big kickoff party and they could invite whoever they wanted. The girls just started talking about it and the list kept growing.”
Rice’s team placed second in Virginia in the Girls Go Cyberstart National Championships in 2019 and 2020. In 2019, they had the most girls enter the competition’s Access round, which earned them a $1,000 Amazon gift card.
This fall, Rice plans to start two CyberPatriot teams, one all-girls team and another that’s open to anyone.
As she was coming up to speed on cybersecurity education, Rice looked to the Virginia Cyber Range, a state-sponsored online platform that allows teachers to host their courses, access classroom exercises and connect with one another to share ideas. Rice now serves on the organization’s K-12 advisory board and frequently draws from its resources — particularly during COVID-19.
“When COVID hit, they were bummed because we were getting ready to do all the fun stuff,” Rice said. “I provided a break for my students from their AP or dual enrollment courses by focusing on games and challenges from the Girls Go Cyberstart program. It was fun and helped me stay connected to them.”
Though parts of Spotsylvania county are rural, the area is only about 60 miles from Washington, D.C. In 2018, Rice organized field trips for her students to the Pentagon, the NSA and FBI, where they met with Cybersecurity professionals from those organizations. She hopes to take advantage of more opportunities like that once it’s safe to do so.
Through a Facebook group for cybersecurity educators and her professional organization Virginia Business Education Association, Rice set up and hosted a web series this summer called “HackItUp with Kristi and Friends” that provided lessons and resources teachers can use this fall. She plans to continue the series during the school year, including teachers from across the country.
“Some of my friends ask when I’m going to take a break, and I tell them that I do all these things because I want to provide the best for my students,” Rice said. “If they see me excelling, they will want to do it too.”
About Spotsylvania High School
Spotsylvania High School was established in 1940 and the current building opened in 1994. It is located in a rapidly growing suburban area southwest of Fredericksburg, about 60 miles from Washington DC. Spotsylvania offers a wide variety of academic, CTE (career and technical education) courses, and specialized programs to meet student needs. Spotsylvania staff maintain a focus on high academic achievement while creating a learning environment in which all students can be successful. Students are encouraged to select rigorous courses that will provide an intellectual challenge and will better prepare them for future educational and career pursuits.
SynED is a non-profit organization that acts as a catalyst to help colleges and other higher education partners equip students with the skills they need to enrich their lives through education, knowledge and skill acquisition, giving them rich career opportunities.