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Student Voice: Taylor Ownbey's Experience Discovering and Becoming a Student Leader in Cybersecurity

Taylor Ownbey, is a Junior at Capitol Technology University, majoring in Cyber & Information Security. She also currently works multiple positions at the University, including within the Cyber Battle Lab and Digital Forensics Lab, where she is the student lead. 

- This is Taylor's story -

Growing up, STEM of any kind wasn’t my main focus or interest. Ever since elementary school, I excelled in English and visual arts, receiving straight A’s in every writing class and winning art competitions every single year. I had found my area, my niche, and felt completely comfortable in it.

When it came time to look at colleges and future plans, I began to explore other options, namely the field of criminal justice. I grew up surrounded by law enforcement, military, and federal contractor family members. Doing something to help everyone else just seemed right; I could not imagine myself working a job where I don’t make a difference. I had a new goal in mind: the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I looked at requirements, watched videos on what the Academy would be like, emailed recruiters, everything I could to make it a viable option.

To work as a Special Agent was, indeed, an option, until I received some news in the middle of high school. I was dealing with chronic pain and other physical limitations at the time, and the diagnosis had just come in: a spinal disease that only worsens, and disqualifies me from any and all federal jobs that require physical activity. To say I was crushed would be an understatement. I had this great plan of following in family's footsteps, to help everyone around me, but my physical limitations got the better of me.

It was around this time I began to look at other options. I was not going to give up helping people that easily, even if my own body tried to stop me. Looking at other options for my future, I ended up joining a small local sector of Girls Who Code. This club only covered basic programming concepts, but I fell in love with technology immediately.

I had a new plan in mind, and I devoted all of my time to self-teaching myself any and all tech concepts I could get my hands on. I engaged in countless online modules, YouTube videos, and thrift store textbooks. Throughout this journey, scouring the internet for resources, I stumbled across free educational modules for cybersecurity. This was a field I had never considered prior, and I began to wonder why I had never looked into it. It fit the bill for a federal job I had used to want, it will change the world for the better and help people, and it is tech? It seemed like a dream come true.

Going to a university for cybersecurity was an incredible leap of faith. Despite being in love with the field, I had no tech classes at all at my school. Everything I learned was self-taught, and I felt incredibly under-qualified for everything. Imposter syndrome would have gotten the better of me if I didn’t have such an intense drive to succeed in this field. I had lived my life before not doing things and not perusing fields because of my illness, my intelligence, my gender. I was not going to let any of those factors hold me back anymore.

I jumped right into all major-related courses, engaging with the Cyber Battle Lab and the competitive cyber battle team Signal-9. I was new to the field and did not know everything, but it didn’t matter. I wanted to learn, and I was being given every opportunity to do so.

I went from a complete amateur in cybersecurity to a Cyber Lab manager, a lead member of Signal-9, a professional educator for the NSA’s Cryptologic Museum, and being connected and accepted by multiple federal agencies and private sector corporations for internships. I was set back by so many factors, but I couldn’t let anything I can’t control stop me. I am still not a genius, not an expert, not the best. But I don’t have to be. Initiative and a desire to learn anything and everything is all I needed, and it is all I still need.

To learn more about Taylor's journey and connect with her directly, click here to register for her webinar titled "Balancing Student and Professional Life: Working in the Digital Forensics and Cyber Battle Labs" on Friday, September 11th, 3-4 p.m. EST.