Knox Changes Lives: We’re on our way there – final challenge day! Judd '69 & Charlene Jessup and Merry ’80 ...
Major in Economics and Minor in Business & Management
What do you do in your current job?
Right now, I’m leading information security efforts related to the divestiture of TransUnion’s healthcare business. It’s a new role for me. I’ve never done the divestiture part before; I’ve primarily focused on mergers and acquisitions information security efforts. I’m really enjoying it. It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun.
I’m managing these efforts based on my experience as the information security officer for the healthcare business. In that role, I coordinated information security’s risk and compliance management for healthcare senior leadership. This role required an in-depth knowledge of the business, so when they sold it, my boss asked if I would help.
How did Knox prepare you for this?
Knox taught me how to think critically about things, how to piece things together. I did my senior project for Jonathan Powers, assistant professor and current chair of economics, with two friends on how cell phone pricing works. We went to different stores in Galesburg and learned about different variables that relate to pricing. All the random challenges I was presented with at Knox taught me that sometimes you have to focus on a different problem and you have to bring pieces together. For example, I remember taking an international economics class with Roy Andersen, Charles W. and Arvilla S. Timme Professor Emeritus of Economics. We received an assignment to write a 15-page paper on a commodity—it was just open-ended. This served me well when later in my career at Argonne National Laboratory, I was assigned a project to look at nuclear fuel supply chains—another open-ended research project focused on a commodity!
I learned how to pivot—you must be flexible. You can’t get frustrated. For every 15-page paper I had to write, I was also challenged with papers that couldn’t be over two pages, so I had to be clear and concise. My Knox education doesn’t directly correlate to what I’m doing now; however, without Knox, I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing now.
How did you get into the field of information security?
My senior year at Knox, I sat down with Carol Scotton, associate professor of economics and business and management. I told her I didn’t know what I wanted to do … I was thinking about selling sports tickets. She asked if I had looked at internships or at grad school. I started looking around, and I got an internship at Argonne National Laboratory doing physical security risk assessments. Part of the requirement for the internship was that I work on my master’s degree, so I went to Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois, and received a master’s in aviation.
Aviation is all about risk management. The moment you take off in an airplane and until you land, your life is in the complete control of systems and people. You have no say in what’s going to happen. All the systems need to work.
At Argonne, I focused on risk: physical security risk, cybersecurity risk. I wrote a paper on the history of critical infrastructure protection. I did a lot of work for the Department of Energy and the Department of Homeland Security. It was a lot of quality assurance on questionnaires that the government uses to make sure our critical infrastructure is secure. I started looking at the cyber aspect of it; I’ve always been interested in technology.
In 2013, President Obama issued an executive order on cybersecurity. I went to D.C. and worked for what is now called the Cyberinfrastructure & Infrastructure Security Agency. I was a subject matter expert, and that just rocketed my career into information security into other areas in the private sector.
My economics degree has helped at every step of my career, economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources. When you are trying to defend a company from security attacks, you do not have an unlimited budget, so you need to know how to allocate resources in areas where they can matter the most.
What would you say to a student considering attending Knox?
If you are interested in computer science or in economics hoping to go into information security, do a research project that you can hang your hat on in lieu of experience. Just because you don’t have work experience doesn’t mean that what you do in college doesn’t count.
For four years, I never directly focused my Knox studies around information security. However, if you are interested in it, Knox allows you to do what you want in terms of creating your own major and studying a subject that you are interested in.
If you start working on it in college, you can also figure out if you really like that field. You never know where you are going to end up or what you are really going to do. I have tremendous respect for people who know what they are going to do, but if you are not that kind of person, it’s okay. Knox offers you the opportunity to take other kinds of classes, to get out of your comfort zone. Even if it’s not directly related to what you want to do, you are still going to learn from it.
Another aspect to consider is that a Knox education is about more than your major. The skills and exposure I gained by taking classes outside of my major and the activities I was involved in have aided me in the people side of my career. Being on the football team, in a fraternity, and working as an athletic trainer taught me how to interact with people. I can connect and build rapport with a diverse range of professionals because of my Knox experience. This has served me well in information security; people and culture are critical aspects of any good cyber defense.