When I became a new mom five years ago, my husband and I imagined moving to Bellingham to raise our daughter. In 2012 I was laid off. Most people might see being laid off as negative, but I saw it as our opportunity to relocate. As a registered polysomnographer (a sleep technician who monitors patients for sleep apnea), the biggest challenge was finding work in my industry. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of sleep clinics in Bellingham. In the search for work, I found administrative positions that I qualified for but most required a two-year degree. I had experience, but no degree. This set-back made me reassess my direction. I am a "tomboy" and "techie" at heart. I have always worked unique jobs that challenge me physically and/or mentally. I have worked as a roofer, painter, welder, automotive tech and even drove a one-ton truck delivering construction supplies in downtown Seattle. It was time to explore other options.
I went to Whatcom Community College to seek assistance. There I met with WCC vocational advisor Brian Davidson. He went through my experience, skills and personal interests to help determine what program would fit best. Initially, I thought I would get a business degree and continue on in management but this process helped me to rediscover a desire to enter the IT world. I enjoyed working with computers but never followed through with school because, honestly, I hated the idea. I am an introvert and being shy in a public school system that caters to extroverts was discouraging. Brian helped me focus on my interests and pointed me in the direction of WCC's CIS program. The program offered cybersecurity and networking courses. Information technology was growing rapidly and the demand for cybersecurity was becoming more apparent every day. It was then that I decided to take on the cyber challenge.
During the enrollment process, I distinctly remember getting my student ID picture and the photographer noting that the CIS students were a tight-knit group. After feeling isolated in the public school system, it was reassuring to hear there was a sense of community in the CIS program. For the first time in my life I was looking forward to going to school.
In my first quarter I took a Linux class, which was like speaking a foreign language. Looking around at the others typing away, I imagined I was the only one completely lost. To my surprise, there were many students with the same feelings. Not long after, I attended a CIS presentation by students Christy Saunders and Scott Sisco. They performed a cyber-attack on a web server then demonstrated how simple changes to the configuration could secure it. The shock factor alone made me want to go home and unplug my computer, but what got my attention was the amount of knowledge they had gained in two years. I was inspired, motivated and encouraged to continue. I couldn't wait to learn more, and I did.
Whatcom's instructors are very knowledgeable. They encourage troubleshooting (a much-needed skill in IT) and team building. Professor Corrinne Sande, who leads the CIS department, has put together an exceptional curriculum with an emphasis on cybersecurity. The program even includes an industrial security class that addresses cyber-attacks against automated control systems at industrial companies such as power plants, oil refineries and the smart grid. In addition to the skills gained in classes and labs, I've had the opportunity to compete in the annual Pacific Rim Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition where I worked with a team to protect and defend against cyber-attacks, mentored middle school girls at Girls Go Tech, and gained technical experience working a student-run help desk fixing students' and WCC employees' computers. Over the last two years, I've gained the knowledge and technical skills to obtain a position in the world of technology. Having the opportunity to continue education has helped me to appreciate school again. The CIS program has been one of the most challenging and fun experiences of my life. I'm glad I chose Whatcom.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This article is one in a series of essays written by Whatcom Community College students who graduated June 20. Stephanie Marchant will earn an Associate in Science Computer Information Systems degree from WCC. The CIS program's academic excellence is recognized nationally; Whatcom is the lead institution and home of CyberWatch West, one of only four National Science Foundation Advanced Technology Education centers for cybersecurity. The College continues to invest in the program to match industry demand. This summer, the CIS and cybersecurity labs and classrooms will be remodeled and more than doubled in size. Whatcom and WWU offer a pathway to a baccalaureate degree in Computer and Information Systems Security. Graduates who earn their two-year Associate in Applied Science - Transfer degree in Cybersecurity at WCC are eligible to continue at Western for two years to earn the CISS baccalaureate degree.