Embry-Riddle Cyber Scholars Score Jobs, Connections at D.C. Event

Dr. Omar Ochoa and four students from Embry-Riddle's Daytona Beach Campus attended the CyberCorps job fair and networking event. Pictured from left to right are Caleb Hall, John-Patrick Mueller, Ochoa, Sofia Guida and Calla Robison .
Dr. Omar Ochoa and four students from Embry-Riddle's Daytona Beach Campus attended the CyberCorps job fair and networking event. Pictured from left to right are Caleb Hall, John-Patrick Mueller, Ochoa, Sofia Guida and Calla Robison (Photo: Embry-Riddle/Calla Robison)

When Calla Robison was growing up, she wanted to be like agent Benji Dunn, the computer-savvy sidekick who employs technology to support superspies and thwart imminent disaster in the “Mission: Impossible” films.

In some sense, the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University senior is well on her way.

Robison — who has made the dean’s list every semester since starting at Embry-Riddle in 2020 and is involved in endeavors including internships at major airlines, product development projects and learning Russian — is a recipient of the National Science Foundation (NSF) CyberCorps Scholarship for Service (SFS). As a CyberCorps scholar, she attended a job fair and networking event this year in Washington, D.C., where she was offered two positions: with the U.S. Defense Intelligence Systems Agency as an information security IT specialist and with the Naval Surface Warfare Center as a computer scientist in the Command and Control In-Service Engineering Branch.

“I had three interviews and received two job offers on the spot,” Robison said. “I also enjoyed connecting with students from the other SFS programs across the nation.”

Robison traveled to the D.C. event with 10 other Embry-Riddle students who had also received CyberCorps scholarships. The students were selected over the past two years to receive the scholarships as part of a $3.8 million fund granted to Embry‑Riddle in 2022 to help bolster the cybersecurity workforce, especially in government agencies. The grants include full tuition and fees to attend Embry‑Riddle, plus stipends for up to two years, with the stipulation that the recipients will work in cybersecurity for federal, state, local or tribal governments for the same duration as their scholarship support.

Dr. Radu Babiceanu, professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Embry-Riddle CyberCorps scholarship program principal investigator, led the group at the recent event in Washington, D.C.

“The event organization is outstanding, with NSF and the Office of Personnel Management officials providing an exciting agenda and networking opportunities for cybersecurity scholars from all over the country," said Babiceanu. "The number of federal agencies showcasing their cyber activities and competing to hire the best scholars is impressive. While some of our students were offered internships and/or permanent positions on the spot, others are currently training for more formal follow-up interview requests received after the event. The annual event also has dedicated sessions to brief principal investigators on updates to the federal program and recommendations for increasing students’ chances of landing excellent positions.”

A Bridge to Success

Caleb Hall, who was drawn to cybersecurity because of the “cat-and-mouse chase” between “white hats” and hackers, received a job offer from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

Hall has a lifelong career plan worked out: “I plan to be a ‘pen tester,’ breaking computer systems to make them stronger,” he said. “Then I’d like to go to the defensive side and work as a cybersecurity engineer. Then I’d finish my career as a cybersecurity architect, designing the entire cybersecurity strategy and network for a company.”

Senior Justin LaZare got hooked on cybersecurity after a high school teacher recommended that he try a game called CyberStart, and he ended up spending a whole semester break completing the platform’s more than 200 cybersecurity challenges. LaZare scored a job at the D.C. event without even having to interview.

“I was offered a job tailored to my interests by the chief data officer of CISA right at the beginning of the career fair,” LaZare said.

Other Embry-Riddle attendees were also offered internships or jobs, while all made valuable professional connections.

“The NSF CyberCorps SFS job fair connects SFS scholars with potential employers and peers, facilitating exploration of diverse career paths within government agencies and national labs. The event serves as a motivational catalyst, with distinguished speakers and SFS Hall of Fame winners inspiring participants to contribute to national security,” said Krishna Sampigethaya, associate professor and chair of the Department of Cyber Intelligence and Security and one of the scholarship program’s co-principal investigators. “Both NSF and OPM invest considerable effort into offering an exceptional venue for these talented SFS scholars, ensuring the event is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for them.”

For Robison, her long-range career aspirations are evolving somewhat since the days of wanting to be like Benji in “Mission: Impossible.” Her NSF scholarship will help her to continue to a master’s degree at Embry-Riddle in Data Science “to pursue a more cyber analytic and artificial intelligence role in the future.”

According to Dr. Omar Ochoa, associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and another co-principal investigator, more scholarships will be awarded in the next three years.

Visit the CyberCorps Scholarship for Service web page for Daytona Beach or Prescott for more information.

Continuing a Trend

Embry-Riddle students have a history of success at industry conferences. Last October, for example, over 55 members of the university’s Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) attended the 2023 SHPE National Convention in Utah, and they returned with a total of 43 combined internship, co-op or job offer letters in hand. The students also conducted a total of 198 interviews at the two-day conference.

“Members attended the career expo, networking events, community gatherings and more, allowing them to connect with not only the companies in attendance but also with Embry-Riddle’s SHPE alumni and Prescott’s SHPE chapter,” said Gabriel Rodriguez, academic chair of the campus’s SHPE chapter.

Posted In: Engineering