Guidance Every Step of the Way

Guidance Every Step of the Way

Guidance Every Step of the Way:

Dr. Cristy Cross’ Story with University of Fairfax

Through completing her master’s education sooner than expected, Cristy Cross found herself with remaining GI Bill funds leftover to use. She was able to use those remaining funds towards her first semester at the University of Fairfax – and our practical, career-focused Cybersecurity education is what kept her in our doctorate program. Dr. Cristy Cross graduated from the University of Fairfax in August 2022 and reaffirms that we provided her with the education she was looking for to move ahead in her career.

The University of Fairfax’s reputation is how Cristy made her decision to secure her future in our Doctorate of Information Assurance program:

“Well there’s only about three universities in the states that have a good reputation that have a cyber program, only one of them, which is [University of Fairfax], offers a doctorate,” she says.

She chose our program because we specifically have a doctorate program and not a PhD program – the distinction explained here. After meeting with Dean of Information Assurance programs, Dr. Praveena Kommidi, Cristy learned that our program is based on a “very important, [Department of Defense] cyber framework: Nist 800-53 RMF – and that’s what I do for my job.”

She even recommended the University of Fairfax to a colleague because of said colleagues work with Nist, and how our Doctorate of Information Assurance is based on that framework.

Cristy spent nine years in the Air Force, and decided to earn her cybersecurity master’s and doctorate to relate more to her career field than her previous experience as a software engineer. “The interesting thing about the GI bill is it’s not about the degree, but how quickly you finish it. You get 36 months… I will pick your program as long as I can graduated as fast as you can feasibly make that happen,” she describes.   Once she joined University of Fairfax’s ranks, she found that not only was our faculty responsive, but they also knew what they were talking about because of their previous career experience. “I didn’t feel like I was being graded off of a rubric, but rather their personal knowledge. That’s why I liked the program, and I’ve suggested it to a few people,” she explains.

What really helped her education was how our doctorate and PhD programs are designed around students building their dissertations,

“I do like how you have the dissertation built into the program… I don’t think I would have gotten it done if you didn’t have it set up that way. The other schools didn’t have it that way either.”

She wrote her dissertation on how many managers in her career field don’t understand risk management framework. “In a nutshell, most other programs have you write [your dissertation] in the background while you take classes…” she explains, saying that students are normally left to work through it on their own. However, with University of Fairfax, she explains, “it’s a phase program: do chapter one, you have a professor help you look over it… move to chapter two, [professors] help you, to chapter three, and so on…”

“It’s really hard to fail in writing the dissertation, and you’re not doing it by yourself! You’re not taking six years to write something that didn’t need to take that long.”

She said that in her sessions with her peers, she was able to talk through and “bounce ideas” off of them to better not only her understanding of her topic, but her writing as well.

She works as a government contractor as a senior cybersecurity engineer – and she says her terminal degree has afforded not only a higher salary for herself, but that her organization also financially benefits from her education and experience, “[My organization] is able to use [my] degree for a higher pay band when they’re doing proposals. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.” In ten years, she sees herself continuing to earn certifications and becoming a cyber team leader or manager within those years.

Her advice to all those looking to join the cybersecurity career field and education programs? “Everybody thinks [cybersecurity] is hard, but it’s really not… it doesn’t really change.”

“Quit thinking it’s too hard and you’re not smart enough.”

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