Submitted by: April Hubbard

During the final keynote of WiCyS 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio, we all had the wonderful pleasure of hearing some of the stories of individuals and what WiCys means to them. They joined the stage while “Can’t Stop This Feeling” by Justin Timberlake played. 

To be able to hear the stories of each of these individuals and their journeys as well as the connections they made while at WiCyS – in one word – POWERFUL. It was so powerful and impactful that I decided to volunteer and write another blog covering each of these ten stories over ninety seconds.

Starting First was Weija Yan who is a grad student at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. She spoke on how she grew her local chapter of WiCyS from a few to over thirty, the majority of whom attended the conference in Cleveland, Ohio. WiCyS gave her much more, however. She states that two years ago, she stumbled upon the Carnegie Mellon booth and became a student. She explained that she wants to pay it forward to the cybersecurity community because it is something very important to her.

Next up, Amber DeSadier from Georgia Tech Research Institute. Amber spoke about her job as a manual quality assurance tester at Georgia Tech, and how she wanted to give back to a supportive company, and now is the executive sponsor of the LGBT Community and Resource Group is known as “Affirmed at GTI”. She shares her story about when she first attended WiCyS in 2019. She spoke about the best parts were the camaraderie, friendship, and support from all of the wonderful people who also attended the conference that year. She continued to come to WiCyS and was also in Denver. During her time in Denver, she engaged individuals via the Whova app to find out where the LGBT+ community was within WiCyS and met about ten people who engaged in social events during their time at WiCyS. Amber hoped to bring that to the conference this year, and SHE DID! She spoke about the fact that she is working on establishing an LGBTQ+ affiliate within WiCyS because she understands just how hard it can be to come out in a professional environment.

As someone myself, who identifies as bisexual, it was wonderful to see such an amazing individual engage others who also identify as LGBTQ+. Because of Amber, we enjoyed social events together with over 40 other individuals during our time at WiCyS 2022 in Cleveland, and on our last night, went out, and danced at Twist, a local LGBTQ+ bar in Lakewood. It was a BLAST! I personally cannot wait for the LGBTQ+ affiliate. I am also very excited that WiCyS is such a supporter of diversity and inclusion.

Next, we heard the story from Hayden Keller. He is one of the WiCyS “most valued male allies” from Tennessee Tech. Hayden spoke about how he wanted to go to school to become a teacher. He explained that he came from a family who was a single mother, and sister. From there, he decided to major in computer science, and from there met Dr. Siraj and got involved in WiCyS. WiCyS allowed him to find his passion and do what he loves! Hayden found his home in WiCyS. He found his “people” and because of WiCyS he became a better student, professional, brother, son, and friend and that is what WiCyS is about to him.

“I am a career-changer” Linda La stated at the beginning of her speech. Linda is a GIAC Board Member from Dallas, Texas, and a student at Western Governors University. Linda spoke about the fact that her job offer was taken away from her due to the pandemic. Instead of letting this hold her back, she stuck to her motto “it’s not what you know, it’s whom you know” and she remained positive and started searching. This was how she came across WiCyS and a scholarship opportunity for Capture the Flag. WiCyS gave her the courage to make her change careers. She left us with a few parting words that everyone should take to heart. “Remember the people who believed in you, before you believed in yourself, and try to be that person to other people”

Anna Timmcke from Crossville, TN spoke about her story. To many people’s surprise, she admitted she was a high schooler. She attended her first WiCyS conference last year. She found out about WiCyS from a card that was in a Swag Bag from a University Representative, and on the card was a number and a name. Her mother encouraged her to call the number on the card, and when she called the card, Ambereen Siraj was on the other line, and gave her wonderful advice and told her about WiCyS. She stated that attending the conference was the best thing she had ever done. She found a community, and even more – she found a path for her life in what she wanted to do.

Smriti Bhatt is an assistant professor at Purdue University and wanted to speak about her experiences with WiCyS. She is the chapter co-advisor at her university and had over thirty students attending the conference in Cleveland, Ohio from Purdue. Smriti shared that she attended her first WiCyS conference when she was a student in 2018, which was a very critical time in her life and career. It was her final year in PhD when she met Dr. Ambereen Siraj and that had a huge impact on her. She also loved meeting other women in the WiCyS community who gave her confidence. In 2019, she attended as a faculty scholar with her students and then founded the Texas Chapter in San Antonio. Smriti explains that being a part of WiCyS has been a wonderful experience and journey for her, starting as a student, then faculty, and now a presenter and speaker.

Ramyapandian Vijayakanthan is a Ph.D. student at Towson University and spoke about her research on algorithms within IoT (internet of things). WiCyS gave her brainstorming ideas and the ability to meet with other individuals who have ideas. Ramyapandian shared that many people in WiCyS supported her and that WiCyS needs to continue to grow because what it offers to those in cybersecurity is something that no other organization does. Ramyapandian hopes to give back to WiCyS and the students within the community.

Lillian Mead spoke about her time within the United States Marine Corps, and her transition out of the Corps after ten years. Lillian enlisted in 2013, and she found herself in the field of Information Technology. At eighteen, she decided she needed to discover how to better herself, which is why she chose this field. Lillian discussed how she led the network for the Marine Corps Reserves and then traveled to Africa where she found her purpose. As she transitions out of the Marines, she wanted to serve a community that also gave her purpose, and that is where WiCyS came in for her. She desires to serve in WiCyS and continue raising awareness that women can indeed be seated in a “boys club” job. 

Alicia Kelleher, a security consultant for Rapid 7 in Tampa, Florida spoke about her time and why WiCyS was important to her. She heard about WiCyS at a conference and was like “WOW!” 2021 was her first conference where she met an amazing group of women now known as the “chicken biscuit crew”. Chicken Biscuits are people who love food. She discussed the connections she made while at the WiCyS conference, and how she wishes to help guide early professionals better. She gave a talk during her time at the Cleveland WiCyS 2022 conference about careers. WiCyS has been such an amazing opportunity for her, and she left with a community and home.

Andrica Telusma, a privacy consultant, and student spoke about how WiCyS has impacted her so much, and while sharing, she tried not to cry. Andrica had a previous boss tell her “We can’t promote you. We know you’re more than capable of doing the work, but we won’t make as much a profit with our client if we give you more money”. Know your worth! Knowing your worth is hard when you’re unsure what your path is and it is untraditional, but that is why WiCyS has meant the world to me. I have multiple degrees. She shares that she has a law degree and that she wants to become a cybersecurity lawyer. She states that the past three days at WiCyS has changed her trajectory. She shares she’s met so many powerful women, as she gets teary-eyed while naming a few. WiCyS and the women within the organization instilled a sense of tenacity and confidence in her. She has even been mentored and challenged to step outside her comfort zone. She leaves the WiCyS 2022 conference with multiple interviews, job offers, a new community, and a sisterhood, and a very important reminder – Your path doesn’t have to be traditional or look like the person next to you to be purposeful or fulfilling. You don’t have to have the correct or best decisions along your journey to be deserving of success. 

Talk about powerful stories. And these are just ten of the thousands within WiCyS. Every single individual within WiCyS has their own story and is on their own path, but these ten brave individuals shared a piece with WiCyS and the world, leaving impactful thoughts instilled in other individuals within the WiCyS community. How amazing is that?

Thank you so much to the ten individuals who shared their stories with us this year at WiCyS Cleveland – 2022.

To watch the keynote, you can do so here: 

To Join WiCyS you can do so here: 

Next year’s conference is in Denver, CO and WiCyS would LOVE to have you attend, so you can network, and be a part of this experience! Keep an eye on our website for information about this in the coming months!