COVA CCI National Cybersecurity Education and Research Conference (CybER CON)


The Coastal Virginia Center for Cyber Innovation, the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative’s Coastal Virginia node, held its inaugural National COVA CCI Cybersecurity Education & Research Conference on September 28-29, 2022, on the campus of William & Mary. The National COVA CCI Cybersecurity Education & Research Conference, referred to as National COVA CCI CybER Con, was designed to bring students, researchers, faculty, government, and industry leaders of all backgrounds together to foster diverse networks and partnerships to support experiential learning in cybersecurity.


“Cybersecurity is an interdisciplinary field,” said Stephanie Blackmon, an Associate Professor in the William & Mary School of Education and one of the conference’s steering committee members, “and it is imperative that we build strong relationships across disciplines and organization types to create the meaningful experiential learning opportunities students will need to be successful in technology and cybersecurity-related careers.”


National COVA CCI CybER Con offered a number of sessions and keynotes from presenters across Virginia and the country. The demonstration, apprenticeship, and internship panels offered insight from faculty, students, university administrators, and industry and government leaders. The conference opened with a message from Senator Mark Warner, Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, where he said, “it is cybersecurity threats that keeps me up at night”, and included keynotes from Ambareen Siraj, a former Professor of Computer Science at Tennessee Tech, a current Program Director for the National Science Foundation, and founder of Women in Cybersecurity (WiCys); Moe McClanahan, a High-Tech Crime Specialist with the National White Collar Crime Center; and Danelle Barrett, a former Rear Admiral with the U.S. Navy Cyber Command.


Brian Payne, COVA CCI Node Director, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at Old Dominion University, and a member of the conference’s steering committee, highlighted the importance of National COVA CCI CybER Con saying, “CybER Con focused on promoting experiential learning and building partnerships in inclusive, accessible ways, all of which are critical for the Commonwealth and the nation.” Each element of the conference represented the synergies that the conference was designed to create.


John Costanzo, COVA CCI Chief Administrative Officer and lead planner for Cyber Con said, “CybER Con was our opportunity to bring together a diverse group of students, researchers, and industry leaders from across Virginia and the country, to learn from our shared experiences regarding filling the expanding cybersecurity workforce gap. We heard from several speakers and presenters who offered their lessons on how they use experiential learning in and out of the classroom to grow critical workforce skills and abilities needed to be successful in the cyber career field.”


JJ Ruscella, Chief Immersive Officer and Executive Vice President for Access VR and one of the panelists for the conference internship panel said, “what the cyber conference did is essential to the rapid evolution and adoption of technology. Bringing together aspiring professionals and industry veterans. They [aspiring professionals] need our opportunities and problems to solve and we need their innovative thinking.”


One area of diversity highlighted at the conference is diversity of the cybersecurity field in terms of food and agricultural industry cybersecurity. This is not the first industry sector one thinks of when discussing cybersecurity, but it is vitally important. One of the conference presenters, Rebekah Miller, who is a graduate research assistant at Virginia Tech, Department of Food Science and Technology, discussed cyberbiosecurity as part of an introductory course for food science.


She said, “I was thrilled to be accepted to share my work on cyberbiosecurity and very excited by the feedback I’ve gotten in response to my presentation. I am excited to see where the connections and information I gained at CybER Con might take me.”


There were also several students involved with National COVA CCI CybER Con. Daqian (Teddy) Yu, a William & Mary School of Education Ph.D. student and a member of the conference organizing team shared, “I’m a rookie to experiential learning, and this conference brought me a great chance to learn deeper about experiential learning. The conference is an opportunity to inspire me as a participant and maybe a further experiential learning organizer.”


Another student, Hannah Bass, Old Dominion University, BS in cybersecurity, who volunteered to work the conference said she gain valuable insights, advice and knowledge while attending the conference. She said, “As a college student, it can be difficult to navigate the professional world. This conference taught me how to network and I gained quite a few contacts from various people from different backgrounds I believe will help me level-up my playing cards when searching for jobs in the future.”


During the conference, a group of students from Marymount University and William & Mary presented information regarding their work with Airius Internet Solutions, LLC, and Dr. Chon Abraham, Associate Professor at William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business in developing a cybersecurity risk and security management application. This team of students was led by Jay Lavoie, Ph.D. candidate at Marymount University and recent graduate of Old Dominion University (MS in Cybersecurity).


Jay had this to say about his experience attending CybER Con and his work with Airius.

“My attending CybER Con was a very rewarding experience on two fronts. I had the opportunity to present research to a professional audience and at widely recognized conference. Second, I was able to attend sessions covering a myriad of topics to learn about the research efforts of colleagues within my field. I highly recommend this conference and encourage those who attended to stay engaged. COVA CCI has also provided me an invaluable opportunity to work with industry partner, Airius Internet Solutions, LLC. Through this opportunity, I was able to work with students from other colleges on real-world problems. Moreover, Managing Partner, Ernest M. Park, provided the opportunity to learn new skills that I had not gathered from my coursework. It is through this process that I have been better prepared for my current job and other opportunities I will encounter throughout my career.”


To learn more about the Coastal Virginia Center for Cyber Innovation (COVA CCI), and National COVA CCI CybER Con, visit the COVA CCI website –