In 2022, Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) hired three new “cyber gurus” to deliver cybersecurity courses. Connar Moore, Rayza Collazo and Tierra Smith make up TEEX’s new cyber instruction team that travels around the U.S. and its territories to provide no-cost courses like Essentials of Cybersecurity, Community Preparedness for Cyber Incidents and Understanding Targeted Cyber Attacks. Together, they bring to TEEX multiple advanced degrees and a combined thirty years of experience in I.T., cyber and cybersecurity. Moreover, in a field where women are often underrepresented, underpaid, and discriminated against, this all-female team demonstrates that women can be successful in the vast world of cyber.
The courses they teach are relevant to threats commonly seen by businesses, city and county services and infrastructure, as hackers constantly try to access these systems. Rayza says, “These courses are so impactful because cybersecurity has become a national issue. It’s important to make people think about protecting themselves and their organizations.” She describes how cyber attacks can affect an entire community, citing an example of a water treatment plant servicing multiple large cities and towns. “If someone hacked into their system and altered the chemical levels in the water, it could be devastating to millions of people.”
However, the courses help not only to stop hackers but also to stop employees from opening doors to them. Tierra explains the importance of teaching individuals to protect themselves, saying, “In my opinion, humans are the weakest link in cybersecurity because we are naturally vulnerable. The same way we practice personal hygiene, we must do the same with cyber hygiene to protect ourselves and our data.”
Similarly, Connar recognized the significance of TEEX’s training when she took the courses as a professional in the field: “I realized how important the education part was. I could spend millions of dollars on the best technology, but it only takes one employee to click on a link to take it down. Many I.T. people don’t think about the human element, but humans are vital to it.”
Connar, Rayza and Tierra all talk about what it is like to be a woman in cyber. In cyber and I.T., women are underrepresented, and while some may see this as a challenge, all three describe how this empowers them to work harder to create opportunities for themselves. Their supervisor, Devalle Clay, says, “There are not enough women in cyber and I.T., and this needs to change. These three female instructors serve as representation for people in our courses that women belong in cyber.”
For women or girls wanting to enter the cyber or I.T. field, Connar, Rayza and Tierra offer the following suggestions:
- Find friends and coworkers who support you and believe in you.
- If it interests you, jump into it and don’t let perceived barriers hold you back.
- No matter where you are in your career, make good impressions that may lead to future opportunities.
- Keep seeking to improve yourself professionally with certifications. If you work on yourself, you will always see better things in the future. You don’t necessarily have to get a degree or a master’s right away.
- Find a good mentor.
- Join an organization like Women in Cybersecurity and attend conferences to network.
Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service
Vita Vaughn | Director of Marketing and Communications/CMO