Congratulations United Airlines cyber security scholarship winners!

Working in the cyber security industry, I never imagined my job would enable me to give back to causes I care so deeply about. Of course, it helps that I work for a large company and a great leadership team who values diversity and social responsibility just as much as I do. But, I also want to share this with hope that no matter how large or small your company, as you think about how you can make a difference…you remember that you don’t have to be wealthy first or do it alone! Look into the causes that your employer, family, friends, and community care about and find ways you can bring your passion and ideas to the table, and work together to make it happen. Here is one example of many where through my job and network, I was blessed with an opportunity to give back:

Recently at the International Consortium of Minority Cybersecurity Workforce Professionals (ICMCP) Third Annual National Conference in Atlanta, United awarded $10,000 in scholarships to four cyber security students. I had the extreme honor and pleasure of presenting the awards to the students at the event, and was quickly reminded of how good it feels to give back to others while also contributing to increasing diversity within the industry.

Paola Lowry, one of United’s scholarship recipients, shared how much the honor meant to her at the conference. “I want to express my sincere appreciation for being selected for this award,” said Paola. “I’m sure it was a difficult task, to choose one out of an amazing community of women and minorities who are working hard to break the status quo.”

It feels great to support the next generation of cyber security professionals. Our scholarship recipients are remarkable people. From battling life threatening illnesses, to making selfless sacrifices for their families, to taking leaps of faith to leave comfortable careers and move into the world of cyber security, their dedication to success and resilience are inspiring. It’s important to work with academic, non profit, and for profit businesses to continue closing the gap, and we look forward to continuing our growing partnership with ICMCP.

It’s no secret that diversity in tech is still a challenge today, and the cyber security sector is no exception. In addition, the general talent gap the industry is facing has left many organizations struggling to find ways to attract and retain top cyber talent. I’m proud to work for an organization that leads the pack in this arena and is dedicated to shifting the dial.

“Our journey at United Airlines over the last year has led us to tackle this issue head on,” shared Chief Information Security Officer Emily Heath, who boasts a security, risk and compliance team that as of earlier this year was 48 percent female and had representatives of 25 nationalities working side by side to battle security threats. “As we looked to significantly increase the size of our team, we knew shrinking the diversity gap was going to be a key differentiator for us and a principle that we wanted to be at the core of our team’s DNA.”

Thank you to United Airlines and ICMCP for making the scholarship giveaway possible!

Supporting the next generation of talent with Year Up!

I’ve been a huge supporter on an organization called Year Up for a while now. The organization is dedicated to closing the opportunity divide by offering a competitive program to young adults inclusive of 6 months of business and technical training, followed by a 6 month internship at some of the largest organizations in the nation. I love everything this non-profit stands for and am obsessed with the mission.

Through United Airlines, I also have the honor of serving as the Vice President of Gen Trend – our next generation business resource group. Our mission is to prepare United for the next generation of talent and vice versa. This means partnering with organizations like Year Up to support next gen growth. Recently, we hosted our 2nd annual interview success prep kit event. During this event Gen Trend members got together and built interview success prep kits for about 80 students. Prior to organizing the event, we asked students what they really needed in order to succeed and they told us! The kits include everything from a portfolio folder filled with mock resumes and tip, to Tide To Go pens in case there are any accidental coffee still on the way to an interview! Other items included hand sanitizer, pens, pencils, highlighters, sticky notes, notebooks, usb sticks, mini sewing kits, and a tote bag, and inspiring note cards. After creating the kits, we spent time networking with the students and learning more about their inspiring stories.

To any organizations supporting the many Year Up chapters around the nation, this is a great way to engage your employees and support the organization.

This is what matters. Grow, give back, and repeat!

What on earth made you decide to get a PhD?

This is actually a question I get a lot. Everyone knows pursuing a PhD is no easy journey – it really takes guts and dedication so it’s not something you just wake up and decide to do. And even if so, majority of those who start do not finish once they realize how cut throat it is. In this post I will focus on why I started. Sticking with it once you are in is another can of worms I will open later.

So, WHY? I’ll start by saying that education has always been a priority for me. I grew up in a house where going to college wasn’t optional. To my family, it was just something you did after high school. In fact, it wasn’t until my senior year when some of my friends were deciding not to go that I learned it was a choice. My parents also taught me to always strive to be the best, reach for the unthinkable, and to be better than I was yesterday. With that mentality, I already knew I was going to grad school. The shift from masters to PhD is where the insanity really lies. I had 3 specific reasons for going for it, even when I was told I shouldn’t.

Career Insurance:

My mom raised me to always have a back up plan, and so initially this was just that. I wanted to take risks in my career and knew that if I ever needed something to fall back on, I could always go back and be a professor to financially sustain myself between jobs. Interestingly enough, this has shifted SO much since graduation. I decided to become a professor right away, no longer as a back up plan, but because I want to help build the cyber security talent pipeline of the future. I am super passionate about supporting the next generation of cyber professionals and this is a perfect way to do that. So it’s no longer “career insurance”.  Teaching part-time has become a critical part of my career because it keeps me sharp on evolving industry concepts, helps me connect the private sector with academia, allows me to build an army of next gen talent, and the extra money is nice!

Challenge and Growth Addict:

I still remember a very vivid moment during my undergrad graduation ceremony. I was sitting near the stage so excited for what I had accomplished, but also smiling at all of the people graduating with their masters and thinking: “That’s going to be me soon!”. Similarly, at my masters degree graduation ceremony I remember looking at the small pool of doctoral grads and thinking: “I’m proud of how far I’ve come, but it’s time to turn it up a notch!” My addiction to continuous growth and elevation played a huge role and, while I don’t think I will be pursing any additional degrees, I still continue to experience this philosophy in so many areas of life. You can always be better and do more.

I also just wanted to test my own capacity and power. I knew this was one of the most uncomfortable goals I could possibly pursue and that excited me because discomfort equals opportunity for evolution and growth. The best life teachers to me are ones that provide a structured yet chaotic challenge – which is exactly what a PhD program is. STRUCTURED CHAOS. To master such a challenge is rewarding for any student who makes it. For me, also knowing that I was experiencing this in a newly established field was even more exciting. Unlike the medical industry, Physics, or Math for example..20 years ago formal education programs in cyber security didn’t really exist. Being on the forefront of that has inspired me, especially since you are sort of paving the way for others and contributing to shaping an industry for years to come.

Because I was told “You Cant..”:

Ever want to see my beastmode switch flipped? Tell me I can’t do or have something I truly want. In this journey, doubt became a great source of motivation. I wanted to show my critics and even myself, that this little girl from Missouri City, Texas didn’t care about ceilings, status quo, or not having role models. I was going to do this, and I did!

There are many reasons people choose to take this path, and these are just a few reasons why I decided to a pursue a PhD personally. Again, your reason for starting may not be what gets you all the way through to the finish line either. I found that as I progressed, my motivation and priorities began to shift based on the environment I was in. Learn more about how I stayed motivated and pushed through in the next post. There are also some additional cyber security specific reasons I will touch on as well.

Until then, go out and beast!

Dr. Christine Izuakor