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DSU student’s journey to Black Hat and beyond

July 12, 2016

At Dakota State University, student success is our passion. No matter if the student is physically located on campus in Madison, S.D., or joining us online from wherever they are; seeing students use their classroom knowledge to excel in their chosen field is rewarding, and we acknowledge those accomplishments.

"The university is excited to see so many of our talented students being recognized nationally for their work,” said Dr. Ashley Podhradsky, College of Computing assistant professor at DSU.

One example of student success is Sara Chinn, an online student who’s been working diligently to excel in both her education and career path.

Sara Chinn is a full-time online student with Dakota State University, pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Cyber Operations, and has an A.A.S. in Cyber Security and Digital Crime. Some of Chinn’s academic awards include the 2016 National Cyber Summit, 2015 Black Hat Las Vegas, 2014 P.E.O. (Philanthropic Educational Organization) Iowa and the 2013 Women’s Aware/United Way. Her background includes 20+ years in various operating systems and servers. She has competed in multiple Internet-Scale Event and Attack Generation Environment (ISEAGE) and National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (NCCDC) security events with her team securing two second place finishes at Iowa State University’s ISEAGE event. 

She has experience working for a well-known computer manufacturer, as well as the director of a grant-funded public school program. She is a single parent, and the first person in her family to graduate from college.

About Executive Women’s Forum & Las Vegas Black Hat 2015:

Attending Executive Women’s Forum Black Hat Las Vegas 2015 was like drinking from a firehose! Everywhere you turned there was something you wanted to learn, attend, or be a part of.  When the Alta Associates’ Executive Women’s Forum selected me as a finalists, I was ecstatic, as it had been a dream of mine to attend the Black Hat conference. There you are able to hear from industry leaders and developers, crackers and hackers, who are willing to share insightful knowledge about information security, including risks and its future. It was geared largely to corporations and companies who sell or are in need of security, with a massive vender and product show. There were several capture the flag events put on by companies like HP, and opportunities to show off how much, or how little you know.  

One of my favorite breakout areas of the event was inside the “Arsenal” where you were able to have direct access to the creators of various tools and tool kits. By participating in the event through an organizational scholarship program like the EWF, you are given private access to mentors, and the ability to network with powerful industry leaders that might otherwise be inaccessible during a conference of this size.   

About Women & Minorities in Cybersecurity Working Group:

The Second Annual Cybersecurity Workshop and National Cyber Summit in Huntsville Ala., was an event with a concentrated focus towards government and military departments, as well as industry leaders that provide information security services for these departments. There was no shortage of direct access to some of the most powerful individuals serving our nation in the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, National Security Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and more. As with Black Hat, there were a lot of opportunities to be interviewed, as they had private interview booths ready.

By attending the NCS through the WG, you are given access to a remarkable workshop, with hands on activities.  Facilitators from various cybersecurity backgrounds shared information about their careers and offer detailed mentoring advice. I enjoyed the quality and honesty from each of the speakers, and their willingness to stay after their talks to individually speak with any of the attendees; often offering tailored mentoring advice and contact information. We were also invited to attend the National Security Agency/Department of Homeland Security/National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Reception and Awards Ceremony. This exclusive was held in Davidson Center at NASA U.S. Space & Rocket Center. I was in awe to be dining under NASA’s Saturn V, and the caliber of attendees around me. It was exciting when NCS event’s closing speaker John Matherly - the CEO and founder of Shodan, which is a search engine for Internet-connected devices, and his associate asked to sit down at my table to talk.   

What DSU means to me:

While attending events like Black Hat and NCS, individuals approached me because my name tag identified me as a student at DSU. They wanted to know my opinions or ideas about DSU programs, certain instructors or staff members they heard about, or had met with in the past.  That connection provides a conversation starter – a foot in the door. The reputation of DSU – especially in cyber security operations – is well known. 

To me, DSU means opportunity. It’s an opportunity to be educated by some of the best instructors in higher education, as well as the connections and conversation starters that you will need to gain access to certain internships and positions; eventually becoming a valuable part of the cyber security industry. When I graduate from DSU, I am confident that I will possess the skills needed to become a valuable asset, and my degree will mean all the more coming from a program that is synonymous with quality.

Taking a chance:

Whenever you see an opportunity for an award or scholarship, even if you feel like it might be out of reach, I would encourage you to apply. If you are afraid of not being selected, you must consider the fact that if you don’t apply you are still not selected – so there is no difference. 

Often DSU will send out emails that have information about upcoming scholarships and awards.  That is how I discovered the two previously mentioned events. I have met people who feel overwhelmed by the typical application process, and they don’t know where to begin. If you are unsure how to fill out certain aspects of the forms or have to write a paper for the award, ask for advice. There are a lot of resources you can use to become more proficient at the process.  Some of the opportunities I used to become more comfortable with the interview aspects of the process were the Practice with the Pros sessions and the resume help DSU offers its students. Make use of these resources as they are free and offer great practice and career advice.