Kate Dillon receives a scholarship to attend WISE Summit

By: Kate Dillon (SJSU ASIS&T Membership Director)

It all started with the cybersecurity course. Prior to graduate school, I spent 15 years in non-profit development and quickly became the default technical staff person wherever I worked. I managed databases, email, and advocacy platforms, both offline and in the cloud, and cybersecurity demanded my attention in every position. Given my inclination towards information science, I knew this pattern would continue.

Much of what I learned about technology and cybersecurity in non-profits was self-taught, so I took the cybersecurity course to round out the gaps in my knowledge. I had no idea I would find it so compelling, especially once applied to current business practices, and I sank my teeth into the course. In conversations with Professor Tonia San Nicolas-Rocca, she stressed repeatedly that the ability to be conversant in cybersecurity would be a great advantage in the job market. My own professional experience echoed this advice.

Halfway through the semester, Professor San Nicolas-Rocca shared a posting with the class about a women’s education summit in cybersecurity. I initially didn’t pursue it because I assumed I wouldn’t be accepted to the program. Although I could demonstrate professional experience with cybersecurity, I held neither a computer science nor engineering degree. It slipped my mind as finals approached, but Professor San Nicolas-Rocca was tenacious in encouraging me to apply.

The Women’s Institute for Summer Enrichment (WISE) is an educational component of the overall funding secured in 2005 by the Team for Research in Ubiquitous Secure Technology (TRUST). Composed of six universities – UC Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, SJSU, Stanford, and Vanderbilt – TRUST works to develop cybersecurity science and technology which will transform the ability of organizations to design, build, and operate trustworthy information systems. You may recall hearing about the establishment of the Center for Cyber Security and Big Data Studies at SJSU in December 2013. This was a natural outgrowth of TRUST.

On May 27, 2014, I was offered a full scholarship to attend WISE. In June 2014, I was one of 22 women who descended on Cornell University for a week-long networking event exploring cybersecurity issues in cloud security and big data. It was an amazingly diverse group of women, representing academic and professional backgrounds in computer science, electrical and software engineering, information systems management, and library and information science. We were encouraged to not only network extensively with each other, but to actively identify opportunities for collaboration – a key function of the WISE program. For someone like me, that translated into articulating clear career interests so that others could reach out to me if an opportunity or job arose. Everyone was welcoming, friendly, and extremely accomplished.

Speakers arrived from all over the U.S., presenting deep dives into ethical and policy implications to real world applications of big data and cloud security to a crash course in Bitcoin. We even did a series of improvisational activities that revealed our individual habits and patterns in working collaboratively with others. The week was completely invigorating and inspiring, not to mention being nestled in the rolling green hills, gorges, and waterfalls of the Cornell campus. It was a truly remarkable experience that I never would have known about had I not taken the cybersecurity course.

By the time I left, I saw a clear path to a PhD for myself should I choose to pursue it, which was completely unexpected. Self-imposed limitations of this sort that I had prior to WISE completely evaporated by the end of it. I’m extremely grateful for this academically and professionally formative opportunity. Next year is the final year of the current TRUST funding cycle and WISE will take place on the UC Berkeley campus. I, for one, will definitely be in attendance and look forward to catching up with an extraordinary group of WISE women.

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