Air Force veteran builds on cybersecurity background at Penn State

Jessica Hallman
October 29, 2018

Penn State has a longstanding and proud tradition of serving the men and women of our military through education benefits, resources, support and more. As part of Penn State’s ongoing military appreciation, we offer the following story.*

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- At the age of 18, Jasyn Burby didn’t quite know what he wanted to do with his life. So while most of his friends went off to college, he decided to join the Air Force to figure out his path.

Thirteen years later, with a military law enforcement career conducting federal criminal investigations under his belt, Burby now wants to build upon that foundation. After leaving active duty in April 2018, he is now enrolled as a first-year student in the cybersecurity analytics and operations program in the College of Information Sciences and Technology on the University Park campus.

Burby explained that his interest in cybersecurity formed after several years of military experience.

“It’s not something I would have found had I not been introduced to it,” he said. “It wasn’t until I joined the military that I started seeing the role technology was playing in criminal and intelligence activities.”

“It wasn’t until I joined the military that I started seeing the role technology was playing in criminal and intelligence activities.” - Jasyn Burby

During his service, he traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, Africa and Asia, where he engaged with members other governments and host nations to improve both their national security and infrastructure to improve their quality of life. Now, however, Burby finds himself in a college classroom among other first-year students nearly half his age.

“It’s definitely interesting,” he said “Sometimes I’ll show up to classes and the professor might be offering some words of encouragement or life advice to some young folks who are in there.”

As for how Burby shares the wisdom learned from his global experiences with his classmates, he works to connect the classroom to the real world.

“The one thing I’ve found so far is that young people sometimes don’t clearly understand how what they’re studying is going to translate to the real world,” he said.

He explained that even in a technology heavy field like cybersecurity, knowledge in outside areas such as psychology, religious studies or accounting, could make a significant impact especially in law enforcement.

“At the end of the day, hackers are people. They live in the real world just like everyone else and can still be understood within the field of modern psychology,” he said. “Or, if you want to work in fraud, you have to understand accounting and how money work.”

He also said that his time abroad has allowed to make unique connections with others in the college. He recently met an international student in Reese’s Café who had grown up in Qatar, where Burby had been stationed for two years.

“We were able to reminisce about life in the Middle East, different restaurants or shopping malls and talk about Middle Eastern politics,” he said. “That’s something you wouldn’t get otherwise unless you’ve been exposed to it.”

Qatar holds special meaning for Burby, as that is where he met his girlfriend Alyx. A Pennsylvania native, she is also an Air Force veteran now serving with the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. After living in Japan for two years, the couple moved to State College for Alyx’s career. That’s when Burby decided to pursue his education.    

“Penn State had just created the cyber program,” he said. “I looked at the curriculum and the coursework and thought it looked pretty interesting.”

Burby said that he finds himself excited by the rapidly evolving technology and cybersecurity industries.

“Cyber is a very technical field,” he said. “The technology is always advancing, and there will always be something new that you haven’t learned yet.”

He wants to help share that concept not only with fellow students but also with others in the community. He participated in leading a Cybersecurity for Small Businesses workshop earlier this month with fellow College of IST students Caroline Sparrow and Tim Zhang, IST teaching professor Edward Glantz, and Brice Toth, research and development engineer in the Applied Research Laboratory at Penn State. The workshop was offered by the Penn State Small Business Development Center to help local small business owners to become educated about cybersecurity basics and develop security strategies and policies.

“More often than not, small business owners tend to think they aren’t worth targeting because they are so small or don’t have much allure,” said Burby. “They fail to realize that often times that larger companies have resources to invest in exceptional security. At the end of the day, no one tries to rob Fort Knox, making smaller companies a more attractive target.”

“There’s less room for error with small businesses,” he added. “Especially if all your files get encrypted with ransomware. That could singlehandedly destroy your business.”

While Burby, who still serves in the Air Force Reserve, says that he “grew up” in the military, he realizes that service isn’t for everyone. But, he said, it should still be respected. 

“Military service definitely provides a lot of different perspectives not just about yourself and America and your values but how the world views America,” he said. “It’s something that unless you’ve been a part of it, you probably won’t really understand. But, you don’t necessarily need to connect with military service or service abroad. You just need to find a way to take advantage of all the opportunities and freedoms that you have here which have been provided by service members and their sacrifices.”

This year's Military Appreciation Week at the University kicked off with the Penn State football game on Oct. 27, and continues with other events through Nov. 12. This year's theme will recognize 100 years of women officially serving in the U.S. Armed Forces with special events and activities, including community football tailgate, library showcase, speaker events and more. For additional information, visit militaryappreciation.psu.edu

Last Updated October 29, 2018