Reformed Prankster Models Resiliency, Steers ‘Full Ride’ Scholarship Toward Success

Samuel DeKemper and his fellow cybersecurity scholarship recipients from Embry-Riddle’s Prescott Campus recently attended a job fair and networking event in Washington, D.C.
Samuel DeKemper and his fellow cybersecurity scholarship recipients from Embry-Riddle’s Prescott Campus recently attended a job fair and networking event in Washington, D.C. DeKemper is the third from left in the back row. (Photo: Krishna Sampigethaya)

Samuel DeKemper’s early academic career was inauspicious.

Expelled from high school after a senior prank “got out of hand” and crossed over into vandalism, he then enrolled into a college fine arts program. That, he says, only turned his love of drawing into a chore, however, so he dropped out to become a vocalist for death metal and hardcore bands, performing at shows in his native Wyoming and in Colorado. That wasn’t so bad — he even got to open for bands with longstanding cult followings, like Cattle Decapitation, whose songs protest animal abuse and consumption — but financially, he was barely scraping by, supporting himself with minimum-wage cleaning jobs.

“There was not a lot of potential for growth in these jobs, and the monotony was something else,” he said. “Things looked pretty bleak as far as me really getting anywhere.”

He knew he needed a change, so he began working toward computer networking certificates and applying for scholarships. He enrolled at Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona, and then at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott Campus. Finally, in the spring of 2022, toward the end of his senior year, DeKemper was awarded a National Science Foundation CyberCorps Scholarship for Service (NSF CyberCorps SFS) to pursue a graduate degree in Cyber Intelligence and Security.

The scholarship, which was awarded as part of a $3.8 million fund granted to Embry-Riddle in 2022 to help bolster the cybersecurity workforce, provides full tuition and fees, plus stipends. In return, DeKemper agreed to work in cybersecurity for federal, state, local or tribal governments for two years after graduation.

Everything Changed

Samuel DeKemper (Photo: Samuel DeKemper)

Designed to help meet an urgent demand for highly skilled cybersecurity professionals, especially in government agencies, the CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program opened new doors to DeKemper.

As part of the program, he began an internship with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) last June. He is also currently working on a graduate research project focused on wireless chatter and social engineering in aviation systems — in which cybercriminals use side channels and gain the trust of targets to steal personal information or gain access to sensitive systems.

Dr. Krishna Sampigethaya, associate professor and chair of the Department of Cyber Intelligence and Security, said DeKemper has worked hard at Embry-Riddle and was the first NFS scholar of this kind from the university to get an internship with TSA.

“I have been Sam’s faculty mentor since his undergraduate days,” Sampigethaya said. “He has overcome numerous challenges to emerge as an NSF SFS scholar, and I would like to acknowledge him not only for his academic achievements but also for his exceptional qualities as a student.

“Sam's journey has been marked by resilience and determination. He has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to his academic and extracurricular pursuits, and his desire for service.”

In early January, DeKemper and 10 other NSF SFS recipients from Embry-Riddle’s Prescott and Daytona Beach campuses attended the SFS job fair, arranged by the NSF and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, where they met fellow scholars and representatives from government agencies.

There, DeKemper was able to expand his network and speak with industry leaders, such as the chief information officer of the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. He said he also appreciated experiencing Washington, D.C. DeKemper will work for the government after finishing school.

A long line of achievements to his credit, and high school blunders far behind him, DeKemper acknowledges how far he’s come. He is thankful for the community college he attended and its student government program, he says, as well as a mentoring program he participated in called Trio and a leadership organization called the Buckey O'Neill Society. Most of all, he said, he is grateful to have found a career path with promise.

“Without Embry-Riddle and the National Science Foundation, I would not be where I am today,” he said.

Posted In: Security Intelligence and Safety