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Loyce PailenLoyce Pailen

University Of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC)

 

How did you first get interested in computer science?

I had to think about that because it was a while ago! I started with my mind set on a career in accounting or finance, back when accounting and finance tasks- and this goes way back- were first being computerized. Companies were developing systems that would handle the accounting and finances tasks; there were no more handwritten ledgers and things like that. Software programming caught my attention because of the logic and analysis that is required. Coming from that accounting/bookkeeping/finance background did support me in being successful as a programmer because I understood the applications and could translate them into computer languages. Ironically, the aptitude tests at that time didn't see me as being a programmer analyst. I often look back on that experience because I eventually was very successful in those areas. So much for some aptitude tests. Maybe the aptitude tests were focusing too much on the math background that I lacked at the time, but obviously, that didn’t matter, because I became a great programmer, and I advanced quickly as a systems analyst, Project Leader, and Manager for many computer system application development projects. I also became a telecommunications expert, which solidified and complimented my networking skills.

I had cybersecurity tasks and responsibilities long before I even knew what the term was. Cybersecurity issues existed long before the term ‘cybersecurity' became popular. At the time, as network analysts, we had to respond to system outages that could have been caused by hackers and denial of service; we didn't know! But we had to know how to react to those network outages and shutdowns and bring all the systems and applications back online. So again, we were thinking about cybersecurity, risk management, recovery efforts then- things that we’re talking about in the cybersecurity world now, even though it wasn't called ‘cybersecurity’ at that point.

All the experiences provided me with the foundation for becoming interested in cybersecurity. That's the story of how I got involved with computing and cyber, stemming from aspirations of wanting to be an accountant. I stress this because the only way we're going to do something about the workforce shortage in cybersecurity is for students and workers with varying disciplines, backgrounds, and career aspirations to understand how important it is that they can bring those experiences and backgrounds to the table.

 

What encouraged or discouraged you to pursue your career?

When I started, there weren't many programmers or systems analysts around, so a lot of organizations were using aptitude tests to see if employees in other departments in the organization had the aptitude for doing computer work. This could have been my stumbling block. I might not have had this career if I paid any attention to the aptitude test result, or if my managers had put a lot of stock into those results as opposed to in my potential skills and abilities.

As for encouragement, you can't get this far in life and career without understanding that there were lots of people who were your mentors, who kept you ahead of the game, who gave you confidence, and who helped you excel. When I tried to solve computer problems, I always had the assistance of people who had more experience or knew a little bit more about technology to help me out; that was always something I appreciated. I learned a lot from them.

 

What were some of the challenges?

Being female and a minority, I was usually the only person in the room of my race and gender, because the computer field- programming and networking- was mainly filled with white males. In addition to that, I worked at the Washington Post newspaper and the software that I was responsible for was circulation department-related, and traditionally the circulation department was pretty much white male-dominated. Looking back, I don't remember those being major stumbling blocks, I think it’s because people respected the fact that I understood computing and technology and was there to help them solve their application problems.

 

How did you end up in education?

Once I retired from the Washington Post, I started working on my doctorate, and through contacts and colleagues, I got a teaching position at UMGC. To make a long story short, that led to getting a full-time position as a collegiate professor and program manager, which led to additional promotions to Associate Provost of Curriculum Development. I managed developing curricula for the graduate and undergraduate school with course designers, developers, programmers, and instructional designers. The University president’s vision at the time was to develop a Cybersecurity Master's program within a year. So we contracted with an outside firm and I was very successful in leading the project to create our Masters of Science Cybersecurity Technology program, and another in Cybersecurity Management and Policy. Working with subject matter experts, outside vendors, industry experts, I learned everything I could about cybersecurity. It was a quick lesson in obtaining and understanding what academia needed to do to support the development of a strong cybersecurity workforce.

 

What are some of your accomplishments and ongoing goals?

I've had many accomplishments over the years. As I mentioned, I was successful at the newspaper, and at being a systems project manager for many system development efforts. Before I left, as the director of network and computer systems, I was responsible for the corporate systems. After retiring from The Post, I entered academia, where I was the senior project manager for the cybersecurity master's program; that was a huge accomplishment because the program is still alive today and UMGC has many students enrolled and many graduates from the program. Entering those cyber programs are several students who are recipients of NSA DoD CySP grants for which I am the Principal Investigator.

Regarding my personal goals, I have always believed in being a lifelong learner, using this premise to get additional certifications. My certification as a CISSP was a real accomplishment mainly because I felt like I had been hit by a bus when I came out of taking that six-hour exam. The preparation for it was pretty intense! But, not so much as to deter me from wanting to obtain this prestigious certification and continue with more certifications. I think perhaps some of the cloud computing certifications are useful - I want to stay a life-long learner: No matter what, you must continue learning and advancing.

 

What are your goals?

One of my more recent goals is to close the gap of cybersecurity knowledge in the K-12 arena on the technical side. I've been working with GenCyber teachers. We offered GenCyber teacher camps in Maryland in 2019 and 2021 and we are continuing with post-camp activities with a subset of our teachers. We are conducting a Raspberry Pi project now; it's a very focused project for eight dedicated teachers who want to implement a lesson plan in Raspberry Pi in their classes. I have some very, very good technical people who led the GenCyber camp. We're working with the teachers on the Raspberry Pi project and everybody seems excited about playing around with that technology.

Also, I strongly believe that we need a special focus on non-technical high school courses and find ways to infuse cybersecurity into English, Math, Social Studies, Foreign Language, Health, PE, etc. I believe that we must create interesting lesson plans or games or something to put into these courses that will let students relate cybersecurity to their non-tech concepts.

I am assembling a focus group on this topic and submitting a proposal for a grant that will support us in delving deeper. The focus group is with the National CyberWatch program; hopefully, we will be published, and we'll have some great thinkers providing input on how to influence cyber visibility in those courses.

The K-12 environments must provide exposure to cybersecurity to tackle the problems of workforce shortages and security awareness. I think we have to start with younger children to indoctrinate them with cybersecurity concepts and terms. One thing that I have done- which I think is an accomplishment and I just don't have enough time to continue with- is a series of children's books. I have six episodes of children's books that are topics to get children in the 8-12-year-old age group interested in cybersecurity. One of the things that we emphasize when we talk to guidance counselors and teachers is that, if you don't expose children to these types of jobs and careers, they'll never seek them. We must introduce the notion of cybersecurity and talk about the concepts and terms in a way that will let children understand them at an early age.

 

cyber_grandma_books.pngIf people want to find your books, where can they find them?

On Amazon, under Super Cybersecurity Grandma. I've been doing a lot of charity work also, sending books to various non-profits for them to use; so if you have an organization that's dealing with children in the 8-12 age group, I'd be glad to support them with books or by having a speaker come out (email Loyce.pailen@umgc.edu).

I believe that children need to be exposed to the importance of cybersecurity and that it could help more to encounter the concepts on TV and social media. For example, when I was a kid, I always knew not to start a fire because Smokey the Bear was everywhere saying, “Only you can prevent forest fires!” I did a presentation on the way the Smokey campaign successfully instilled a national awareness of the importance of forest fire prevention, and how we might go about similarly impressing cybersecurity concepts into the minds of children today.

Dianne O'Grady-Cunniff, dogrady at usmd dot edu
Director, Maryland Center for Computing Education

Dr. Megean Garvin, mgarvin at usmd dot edu
Director of Research, Maryland Center for Computing Education

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Maryland Center for Computing Education
3300 Metzerott Rd. Adelphi, MD 20783 http://cs4md.com
MCCE received initial support from the National Science Foundation, (MSP)2 Grant No. 0831970.