Two University of Maryland University College alumni have created a robust networking group for women working in the cyber security field.
Lisa Foreman and Cathy Hogendobler are cyber security professionals by day and moonlight as leaders of the Women's Society of Cyberjutsu, a Virginia-based organization that aims to empower women in the field. Approximately 90 percent of the organization's student participants attend UMUC.
Foreman, who earned a bachelor's degree from UMUC in information technology, had always been interested in technology, dating back to her childhood desire to be a hacker. After earning her degree at UMUC, she began her challenging career as a cyber security professional. But she noticed there weren't many ways for women working in IT and cyber security to connect and support one another. So she decided to create an organization for professional women in cyber security to call their own.
"I wanted to create an environment where women could learn very technical knowledge in a comfortable environment," Foreman said. "We had about 10 women come out to the first workshop, so we found that there was some demand. And it grew from there."
Hogendobler, director of the organization, considers her career path a fortunate one. The early part of her 20-year career in IT featured a variety of jobs in system administration and database development. After earning a master's degree in IT management and a Master of Business Administration from UMUC, Hogendobler shifted over to the field of cyber security and hasn't looked back. While she appreciates the support from co-workers and supervisors early on in her career, she too found the Women's Society of Cyberjutsu addressed a critical need for professional women in the field.
"I attended one of the first Cyberjutsu workshops, and it was amazing to see the level of involvement, participation, interest, motivation, and camaraderie," Hogendobler said. "I immediately got excited about seeing this grow."
The Women's Society of Cyberjutsu offers hands-on training sessions, networking opportunities, mentorship and advising, and internship and job placement assistance for professional women working in cyber security. The industry, much like others in information technology, remains male-dominated, and so the organization aims to not just to empower women but also to inspire the next generation of female cyber warriors. The organization runs an academy for middle school aged girls, which offers a range of STEM programs.
While the organization did not exist when Hogendobler was a student, she did pick up notable skills and advice from memorable faculty during her time at UMUC. One professor told her to never stop learning. Another stressed the importance of certifications and experience. Another replied with "So what?" whenever any student presented a question, a response that Hogendobler believes was vital to her critical thinking skills.
Then, of course, there were the team assignments.
"At work, we bring a variety of individual talents to the organization, and we learn to work together," she said. "That started at UMUC. I really appreciated the ability to work in a team environment in the graduate program."
Today, the work of the Women's Society of Cyberjutsu remains more important than ever. But Foreman and Hogendobler have a message for women—including UMUC students—seeking careers in cyber security: This is the field for you.