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Cybersecurity NOVA IET Career Pathways STEM Careers Student to Workforce Tech Equity Women in STEM

Student To Workforce Spotlight: Fandrea Tinsley

Fandrea Tinsley is a NOVA graduate who has been hired by Wal-Mart Cyber at a recruitment event after completing a NOVA IET resume and interview prep session. We thought we’d ask her a few questions and get some insights about her new career and how NOVA helped along the way.

1) Why is Cybersecurity important?

In the technology age that we live within, cybersecurity is becoming increasingly important because so many things connect to the internet (almost everything). Any device that connects to the internet can potentially be hacked! Since so many people use the internet daily the threat landscape is vast. This being the case, cybersecurity is not only important in our society but necessary.

2) What got you into Cybersecurity?

My husband, Farod! He is a NOVA alumnus and completed the same cybersecurity program in 2018. After which, he transferred to George Washington University (GWU) to complete his bachelor’s degree. I was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after conceiving our second son in 2019. While going through chemotherapy treatment, following our son’s birth, Farod recommended that I switch to cyber from the nursing program in which I’d previously been enrolled at Germanna Community College. I took a while to think about it but ultimately decided to take the leap due to me being at high risk during the height of Covid-19. Looking back, I can say that it has turned out to be one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made… thanks Farod!

3) What was your general experience at NOVA?

My general experience at NOVA was great! I’d taken some classes at NOVA when I was younger, directly after high school, but did not finish a degree program. As a returning student, I feel that I was better able to fully understand the importance of what NOVA has to offer and take advantage of this time around.

4) What did you enjoy most about your time at NOVA?

Everything! I enjoyed every class, every lab, every Saturday meeting with the AllCyber club, and forming relationships with classmates. All my professors were exceptional, and I appreciate EVERYTHING that they did to prepare me for the cybersecurity industry. They mentored and advised me until the very end and are one of the main reasons why I received this opportunity with Walmart Infosec.

5) How did NOVA IET help you get started along your career path?

NOVA IET provided me with all the knowledge, tools, and guidance to be successful in the cybersecurity industry. I continuously review everything that I have learned, in my mind, and apply this knowledge to every professional situation that I encounter. I feel that NOVA IET has really prepared me well and positioned me on the path to have a successful career.

6) What was your experience with the NOVA IET team, particularly with Dean Paula Ford?

My experience with the NOVA IET team was one of consistency and support. Throughout my entire experience, I received the same level of follow up, support, mentorship, and career counseling. Dean Paula Ford was an instrumental part of my NOVA IET team through her avocation for me and thoughtful leadership. Professor Kwabena Konodu followed up with me on a weekly basis to provide counseling and to ensure that my plan remained on track. A major part of my success so far is due to my NOVA IET team, and I really appreciate all of them.

7) What skills did you pick up from the mock interview, and how did it prepare you effectively for the real thing with Wal-Mart?

The mock interview helped to prepare me for the real thing by allowing me to “practice before the game”. I’ve been in other interviews over the years, but this was my first time preparing for a cybersecurity interview. The mock interview reinforced my confidence, bearing, and taught me how to structure my answers appropriately. This practice helped me a great deal to be prepared for the real thing, and I know that I would not have felt as confident as I did during my interview with Walmart Infosec, if I hadn’t participated in the mock interview.

8) Describe your confidence going into the interview, your mindset.

I would describe myself as a naturally confident person, and due to me having participated in the mock interview and all the preparation and support that I received from my NOVA IET team, I felt extra confident. I visualized myself already having the job before I even sat down for the interview.

9) Describe the full interview process with Wal-mart. What went well in the interview and what might you do differently?

As much as I tried not to look nervous during my interview, I am sure that I did. However, I’ve been told that I did well. Part of my interview consisted of my interviewer asking about me, my background, my skill set(s) and ambitions. I pride myself on my soft skills and communication, so I think that this part of the interview went very well. The other part of the interview was technical. Prepared as I was, I knew that I didn’t answer every question correctly. However, anything that I wasn’t totally familiar with, or unsure of, I confidently responded that I knew where to find the information and that I am always willing to learn more. I really think that the interviewer liked that.

10) How did your resume help you? Why was it effective? How did your employer refer to it to ask you questions?

My resume was effective in that it helped to get me in the door. My interviewer referenced my resume when asking me questions, for which I was prepared, and questions that weren’t related to my resume as well. Overall, I consider the process a valuable learning experience.

11) What do you do at Wal-mart on a day-to-day basis (that you can comfortably share) and what do you enjoy most about it?

Well, since I just recently began my Walmart Infosec journey, I am still in the research/study phase. My Walmart Infosec team has shown me a warm welcome and I am so excited to be a part of this organization. I look forward to getting to know my teammates better as we work closely alongside each other.

12) How did NOVA prepare you to meet the technical demands of your job?

The cybersecurity program at NOVA is top of the line. Through classroom lectures and work that covers every domain within IT and cybersecurity, rigorous and realistic lab assignments, the AllCyber professional cybersecurity organization, and continuous career coaching and mentorship I feel very prepared to meet professional technical demands. Regarding my job, I have a foundational understanding of all the information that I have been presented with so far, which is an advantage to me.

13) How do soft skills and interpersonal communication play into the interview process and in your job from day to day?

Soft skills and communication skills play a huge part during an interview and on the job. To truly be a team player these skills should be almost second nature. Honestly, I believe that I’ve made it this far relying largely on my soft skills and communication. As I continue to increase my technical prowess, my interpersonal skills enable me to continuously communicate with others, identify needs, and remain an asset.

14) How does your life in the professional world differ from life as a NOVA student? What are the expectations?

Well, prior to entering tech I’d accumulated years of professional work experience in the healthcare industry. Having such experience over the years has fine tuned my work ethic and drive. So, I applied that same work ethic and drive to my studies, and I continue to do so in the professional tech world in hopes that it will continue to serve me well. One difference that I have noticed however, is the level and types of expectation. In school it is understood that assignments must be completed, quizzes and tests must be taken, and regular attendance is expected. In the professional world, some of that stuff doesn’t exist and a lot of expectation is placed on results. I’ve welcomed the challenges from both environments.

15) What are your ultimate career goals?

Well, I’ve already achieved one of my goals having been offered this great opportunity with Walmart Infosec. I think, as of now, I will just continue to focus, buckle down, and see where this journey takes me. I feel that my journey will be more exciting that way! Plus, this exploratory way of thinking about the future of my career seems unrestricting and totally freeing. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

16) What is your experience as a woman in the tech fields? What further steps for equality would you like to see in general in technology fields?

Since my start in tech, I have noticed a strong movement of women entering technology spaces. While I realize the tech industry is still predominantly male occupied, it is exciting to see and know females like me that go out there and pursue their dreams regardless of what others may think or traditional gender roles. If this movement continues to progress, I definitely see the future of tech being very bright for everyone, regardless of gender.

17) What would you say to current NOVA IET students who would like to follow your example? What should they do and what should they expect?

Network, network, network! I personally attended every hiring event available and pursued every opportunity offered to me. Additionally, ensure that you are prepared for these opportunities so as to present the best in you while taking advantage of them. You never know what’s waiting for you behind that next door.

18) And a fun one: Do you watch any TV shows about Cyber (Mr. Robot for example)? What does entertainment get right and wrong when they portray Cyber agents and hackers?

I don’t typically watch a lot of TV, but I have seen cyber related television programs and movies. Prior to entering cybersecurity, the explanation of actors/actresses portraying cyber roles seemed extremely technical and difficult to grasp. But now, if I don’t know exactly what one of these characters is saying, I can at least piece together what they are referring to. Being able to do that is so awesome and makes me feel like I am part of a special club, lol. However, I feel that these roles may sometimes take it a little overboard and not portray the human side of cyber players.

19) Anything important to add that we might have missed?

No, I think that you generally covered everything across the board. I just want to reiterate how appreciative I am for this opportunity, and I encourage everyone striving for a career in cybersecurity to keep pursuing their goals and “stay the course”! If I can do this, you can too!

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Employee Spotlight Engineering Technology Information Technology NOVA Awards NOVA IET NOVA IET Career Pathways

Staff Spotlight: Allison McElfresh is a 2022 NOVA Reward and Recognition Program Awardee

Congratulations to IET Advising’s Allison McElfresh for being a 2022 NOVA Reward and Recognition Program awardee!

The Reward and Recognition Program recognizes administrative and professional faculty, classified staff, teaching faculty, and adjunct faculty who have demonstrated outstanding contributions and exemplary performance.

Allison McElfresh is the strategic lead for advising for students in any of NOVA’s Seventeen Information and Engineering Technology associate degrees and career studies certificates. She brings 14 years of experience as an Advisor and Program Analyst at NOVA to her role.  According to Allison, “One of the greatest challenges of the advising position is finding a balance between responsive advising, where we provide support to students who contact us because they know they need help vs proactive advising, where we try to anticipate problems our IET students might encounter and then attempt to solve those problems before the student even becomes aware of them.”

Her vision is to use data more effectively when advising students and to create resources that help students more easily find the information they need regarding course selection and transfer planning.

So far, she has been able to combine Python programming and Excel to produce tracking sheets that show which students have completed which requirements for their degrees or certificates, so the IET Advisors could identify students who had completed a CSC without being aware of it, so they could be contacted to apply for graduation.  The sheets have also been useful in identifying students who had applied for graduation but forgotten to transfer classes in from another college, allowing those students to complete the transfer process in time.

Allison regularly takes IT classes at NOVA herself in order to acquire the skills to better solve advising problems.  She has been taking courses in Python Programming and Advanced Database Management, and will be working towards the new Data Analytics Specialist CSC which should be added to NOVA’s curriculum sometime in 2023.

“I can’t wait to see the ways in which Machine Learning and Data Analytics can help me find creative ways to advise my students better.”  If you have any advising questions for one of the IET degree or certificate programs, you can reach Allison McElfresh and the other members of the IET Advising team at iet@nvcc.edu.

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Design Thinking Fabrication Fellowships NOVA Fab Lab STEM Camps Teacher Professional Development

Design Thinking Fellowship at the Fab Lab

Saturday May 7th marked the last day of professional learning for the educators in the Design Thinking Fellowship! Teams had worked over the semester to design a LEGO storage solution for a user with specific needs, and this was their chance to prototype and test their ideas.

After all this preparation, educators built small scale “rough prototypes” of their designs using cardboard, hot glue, and common crafting materials. Fellows then gathered testing data from their prototypes before presenting their work and explaining their thinking to their peers.

Next, fellows will be practicing teaching what they learned during SySTEMic’s digital fabrication summer camps. Working in groups of three, educators will deliver modified version of the LEGO challenge they just completed to elementary and middle school students across the region.

Fellow Dahlia Henry-Tett, NOVA faculty, reflected on the experience:

“We have to be in the place of a student more frequently. We sometimes forget what it fills like to start, to try things in a different way. Being here as an instructor, as a teacher, allows me to feel like a student again, to see the struggles that they’re going through, trying to create things. It allows me to be better as a professional. Also the skills I’m learning for Design Thinking will carry into my classroom and allow me to use a different method that will help these students think differently about how to approach things.”

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Business Engagement Engineering Technology Externships Industry Tours NOVA Fab Lab NSF Grant NSF Grants STEM Education

DCO Tech Externship Educators Tour Micron and Stack

Engineering technology teachers, counselors, and administrators had the opportunity to tour Micron and Stack Infrastructure this month as part of a NOVA Secondary Educator Externship to help guide students into Engineering Technology careers. There are more tours available for June.

This Externship program is a component of an NSF funded grant awarded to NOVA to expand the pipeline of students preparing for careers in engineering technology. It helps teachers, counselors, and administrators develop first-hand knowledge of engineering technology through higher education and industry connections.

Participants tour local facilities, engage in discussions with industry and higher education leaders, and develop a plan to guide their students to careers in engineering technology.

Participants must participate in a tour of Micron Technology in Manassas and STACK Infrastructure in Ashburn as well as tour NOVA’s Fab Lab and engage in discussion about NOVA programs.

Students who completed NOVA’s Career and Leadership Readiness Institute have been invited to join the externship participants to learn about engineering technology careers and opportunities with industry partners.

Tours of Micron Technology and STACK Infrastructure were held in April and May. The Secondary Externship application is still available, with final tour dates of both sites scheduled for the end of June.

For more information go to iet.novastem.us/Externship2

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Design Thinking Fabrication Fellowships Professional Development

Design Thinking Fellowship For Educators

Our first cohort of NOVA Design Thinking Fellows (high school teachers, informal STEM learning professionals and college faculty) is training with us at the NOVA Fab Lab to bring #DesignThinking to their students.

Applications for the second cohort of 12 Design Thinking Fellows will be available in the Fall. Sign Up for our Newsletter and follow us on Twitter for updates.

Complex problems require innovative and creative solutions. Design Thinking is the key to challenging assumptions and approaching problem solving in a collaborative, interdisciplinary and non-linear way.

Design Thinking Fellow Activities:

  • Complete the Professional Learning (PL) Institute at NOVA’s Fab Lab, focused on digital fabrication and design thinking.
  • Practice teaching PL topics at a 1-week summer camp
  • Submit an entry to the bi-annual Fab Lab Design Challenge
  • Create and implement PL classroom activities

In all, Design Thinking Fellows complete 60 hours of professional development and receive a $2200 stipend.

This fellowship is funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) Grant #2055324 entitled Supporting Instructors to Embed Design Thinking in Digital Fabrication Courses