By Jonah Grinkewitz

The Coastal Virginia Cybersecurity Student Association (CVCSA) hosted its inaugural capture the flag competition, CyberForge 2022, on March 26 at Old Dominion University. Teams of cybersecurity students competed in various challenges in a Jeopardy!-style format.

"CyberForge is the culmination of more than one year of planning by the CVCSA team, and it was a great success," said John Costanzo, Coastal Virginia Center for Cyber Innovation (COVA CCI) chief administrative officer. "These types of events bring students from different schools who have a diverse level of experience and cyber skills together in an environment where they are tested in real time."

Sixty-one students working on 23 teams from ODU, Tidewater Community College, ECPI University and Virginia Beach City Public Schools, representing the Advanced Technology Center and Princess Anne High School, participated in the event.

"As a regional node of the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative, one of our goals is to promote collaboration between regional partners, which our student association has demonstrated through this event," said Brian Payne, vice provost for Academic Affairs and director of COVA CCI.

James Read, CVCSA president and an ODU cybersecurity graduate student, said, "As a regional association, CVCSA hopes to bring this event to other schools, highlighting their students and campus, while bringing together students throughout the region to develop their skills and teamwork through gamified learning."

ODU students Riley Pfister, Trevor Simmons and Kirk Smith took first place at the event. Cameron Grimsley, Donovan Coats, Brysen Korr and Martin Philips from the Advanced Technology Center came in second. A team consisting of Arthur Hill and John Hill (ODU) and Sebastian Tubbs and Scott Maker (TCC) came in third.

"Capture the flag events are fun, and I've learned something I didn't know before at each one I've been to," said Pfister, a senior in ODU's cybersecurity bachelor's program. "Your capture the flag is going to be confusing or even overwhelming but jump right in and do the work. You may not win, but you'll leave the event knowing more than you did at the start, and that is a win."

Each team had to examine a network capture file for data to enter in a website to find the flag. Simmons said this was a different challenge that involved using a software program he does not normally use.

"These events are a great way to improve existing skills and learn new ones," Simmons said.

Funded by COVA CCI, the CVCSA was first envisioned during the Spring 2020 COVA CCI-sponsored Innovate Cyber Challenge, where students from ODU, Christopher Newport University, Tidewater Community College developed the idea to create a student organization focused on closing the skills gap in cybersecurity and preparing students to enter the workforce. They plan to do this by partnering with the cybersecurity clubs found within the region's universities and colleges.

"CVCSA's mission is 'closing the gap' by helping students bridge the divide between skills they learn in the classroom with the requirements needed for entry-level cyber jobs," Read said. "In the long-term CVCSA wants to provide curated learning pathways and a mentorship program to guide cybersecurity students in achieving their goals."

COVA CCI, led by Old Dominion University, is one of four nodes of the state-funded Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI). The other nodes are Northern Virginia (George Mason University), Central Virginia (Virginia Commonwealth University) and Southwest Virginia (Virginia Tech). Visit the COVA CCI website - - to learn more about this organization.

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