Cyber engineer builds security skills through two online degrees

Jessica Hallman
July 19, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State alumna Jodi Fleming has made a career out of making sure critical data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Fleming serves as the principle cybersecurity engineer for the 59th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada through a support contract held by Intelligent Waves LLC. Intelligent Waves is a Virginia-based firm that provides end-to-end information technology solutions to public and private sector clients around the globe. In her role, Fleming is responsible for the security of the software, hardware and network systems in her assigned network enclave with the U.S. Air Force.

“In most organizations that I’ve worked for, one of the biggest threats is data loss. Malicious actors persistently attempt network intrusions in order to steal personally identifiable information, health records or other important organizational information,” she said. “The system I currently support is an air-gapped network which does reduce the occurrence of certain vulnerabilities. There are still many security controls that must be implemented in order to secure the system.”

Jodi Fleming

Jodi Fleming

IMAGE: Provided

A passion for her profession

After she earned her bachelor’s degree in information sciences and technology through Penn State World Campus in 2013, she moved to Georgia with the U.S. Air Force Reserves. There, she served as a research associate with the Georgia Tech Research Institute. Working in an educational research arena gave her the opportunity to develop foundational knowledge of cybersecurity best practices.

“The more exposure I had to cybersecurity, the more I wanted to continue to enhance my education and knowledge in the field,” she said.

It was then that she again turned to Penn State World Campus to earn a master’s degree in cybersecurity and information assurance. While pursuing her degree, she continued to work at GTRI, where she helped solve real-world problems and became a subject matter expert in her field.

As she continues to advance her career, she recognizes the growing demand for cybersecurity professionals and is an advocate for introducing these skills to students.

“In order to fill all of the open cybersecurity positions that we have, if a teen or young adult has a glimmer of interest in technology and how it can be secured, we need to nurture that interest and assist them in developing skills that will help them to be successful,” said Fleming. “Showing them the opportunities that are available will help guide them into a cyber career, if they have that interest.”

“Even if students don’t go on to pursue careers in cybersecurity, they can personally benefit by learning about threats at a young age,” she added “I want to keep my children safe online. Just like in the physical world, our kids need to be aware that there are dangers in the cyber world. Having an open dialogue with your children will help to keep them safe.”

A worthy sacrifice

Fleming’s time as a student at Penn State started much earlier in life, when she enrolled at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus, in 2005. A single mom at the time, Fleming attended classes during the day and worked in the evenings. After a semester, she made the decision to withdraw.

“It just wasn’t the right time in my life to be able to accomplish all of the goals I had set for myself,” she said.

Five years went by, and Fleming still had the desire to earn a degree from Penn State. Both her mom and uncle were graduates, and she wanted to have the school’s name on her resume. But, being in the military, she no longer lived in Pennsylvania and couldn’t attend classes on campus.

Instead, she decided to enroll in Penn State World Campus.

“World Campus gave me the opportunity to complete my degree at Penn State but not physically be located there. It is an amazing program.”

— Jodi Fleming, Penn State alumna and cybersecurity professional

“World Campus gave me the opportunity to complete my degree at Penn State but not physically be located there,” she said. “It is an amazing program.”

She started taking her first online classes full time, just six months after giving birth to her second daughter, while also working as a full-time employee for the Air Force and Department of Defense.

“I did what I needed to do at work, as a mom and a spouse,” she said. “In the little bit of extra time I had, with a lot of late nights and support from my husband, I was able to complete the assignments for my courses and work towards completing my degree.”

She added, “What I’m able to provide to my family now, because I completed my degree, I feel it was a worthy sacrifice.”

As an adult learner, she encourages other students to pursue their passions, even if it’s later in life.

“You just need to get started,” she said. “If you keep saying 'I’ll enroll soon, or maybe next semester,' it will never happen. Just get started, and you will finish.”

Last Updated July 19, 2019