Category Archives: Women in STEM

STEM Camp Student to Instructor Spotlight: LisBeth Valladares Hernandez

STEM Camp Student to STEM Camp Instructor

Lisbeth G. Valladares Hernandez has been around NOVA and STEM for a long time. She was a STEM Camp student and now excels as a STEM Camp instructor. We asked her a few questions about her experience.

1. How were you first inspired in STEM? 

My journey in STEM began in 8th grade, when I decided to participate in The Micron Challenge: Rube Goldberg Machine. At the time I was the only student in my middle school that showed any interest, after listening to the announcement over the schools intercom. Thankfully I had two teachers that were willing to stay after school with me, my wood technology teacher and my science teacher. As I learned the many ways simple machine can be used in day-to-day challenges. It all became a game of intentionality and purpose. 

2. What did it take for you to get where you are? 

Once I started high school I knew I wanted to continue exploring more of what STEM consisted of. I once again convinced two teachers to help me out and bring SeaPerch Underwater ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) to my high school and for them to be my robotics club sponsor. I went out scouting my high school and personally invited people from diverse groups of friends to join underwater robotics with me. 

3. Describe your experience as a minority woman in STEM.

Being in STEM as a minority women has not been easy, specially because a lot of this is unknown territory for my parents. They have simply trusted in me, that my passions are rooted in knowledge seeking and educational growth. As a first generation student I have had to go out and find resources and financial assistance to be able to participate in STEM activities. My parents have supported me through it all, they have sacrificed so much for me.

Being a women in STEM has been hard because I have been in positions where my voice is the only female voice in the room at times. It takes a special kind of courage to pave the way, and I am proud of myself for having done so for other Latinas that follow. 

I also have to thank Zuzana Steen from Micron and Aleksander Marthinussen from NOVA SySTEMic. Although I only saw them in the judges chair, they always affirmed me to continue my academic career in STEM.

Without people like them or my teacher my STEM journey would not have lasted this long. 

4. What you want to pass on as an instructor and where you want to go in your career?

The reason I was inspired to become an educator is because of all of those teachers along my STEM journey that sacrificed their time after school to sit with me and even if they didn’t fully understand what I was doing. I want to be that teacher for others and pay back my community. 

5. How has NOVA and NOVA SySTEMic equipped you in your career path?

Having been a dual enrolled student with NOVA lead me to NOVA SySTEMic, after working on the engineering challenge during the semester, I was handed a poster and guided to check out the summer camp and apply for the internship positions. 

Since then I have had the wonderful opportunity to participate as an assistant instructor in summer camp, assist in Expo events, create STEM in-class curriculum, develop and present teacher professional development, and lead as Head Coach for the NOVA VEX IQ Community Teams, winning 2nd place at the VEX Robotics State Championship and qualifying for the World Championship this year! 

I am excited to see what my STEM Journey has in store for me. All of this would not be possible without NOVA SySTEMic and its amazing opportunities for someone like me. 

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!