Meet Ashley, our current SMSS Job Board volunteer who keeps our members up to date on opportunities around the country. Ashley received her B.A. in Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness from Virginia Commonwealth University and an M.A. in Cybersecurity from Norfolk State University.
Was there a special moment growing up that inspired you to pursue your STEM field?
I really did not have a special moment growing up that inspired me to pursue my STEM field. It wasn’t until my senior year at Virginia Commonwealth University that I began to realize that I could be in Cybersecurity. My professor reached out to me and asked if I ever considered getting into Cybersecurity? He stated I would be an excellent fit. Growing up, I thought that Computer Science was mostly a male dominant field that involved a lot of coding and math. The more I learned about Cybersecurity the more I loved it. That simple interaction changed the way that I saw myself in STEM and started my journey into Cybersecurity.
Who is your current employer?
I currently work for Deloitte as a Cybersecurity Consultant. The company is great because they have a strong focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Deloitte has a Military Spouse Initiative Program that I just joined. I am really fortunate to work for a company where I can openly express my journey as a military spouse.
How does a typical day begin? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
The lessons from 2020 have made me focus more on my mental and physical health. As military spouses, we sometimes fail to put on our oxygen mask first before helping others. Last year really made me realize that.
I like to begin the day early before the rest of the house wakes up. I love the quietness of the morning with a cup of coffee and a good book. Then I will jump on my Peloton bike for about 30-45 minutes. My morning routine gives me enough serotonin and endorphins to get through the day.
What is one professional achievement you’re most proud of?
The professional achievement that I am most proud of is going back to school and getting my Master’s in Cybersecurity. Through the course of my 18-month program, we moved from Fort Hood to Fort Gordon and then to Fort Bliss. I presented my Capstone Project 9 months pregnant with my daughter, all while maintaining a 3.9 GPA. The experience further solidified my passion to get into Cybersecurity and showed that nothing could stop me from doing so.
How do you think your experience as a military spouse has assisted you in your career?
Being a military spouse has been instrumental in becoming a Cybersecurity professional. When I began to consider Cybersecurity, I used the MyCAA grant for military spouses to take classes at my local community college. The ability to use the MyCAA grant gave me the confidence to go to graduate school. I also used the Onward to Opportunity (O2O) program, to pay for my CompTIA Security+ certification.
As far as the military spouse lifestyle, I have built a lot of grit. You have to learn to be your own advocate, raise your hand when you need help, and create your own path.
What challenges have you personally faced that your civilian counterparts may not have?
The biggest challenge that I have personally faced that my civilian counterparts may not have, are the gaps in employment. I think sometimes civilians do not understand the complexity of being a military spouse. The constant moving, TDYs, and deployments sometimes results in spouses taking time away from the professional world.
Do you find you’re more adaptable to change than your civilian counterparts?
Yes and no. I think my experience as a military spouse has made me more empathetic and have a willingness to listen. I believe that everybody has a story, we just have to listen. I am amazed at how adaptable my civilian counterparts are.
Military spouses are awesome when it comes to adaptability. I was fortunate to be on a project that was geared towards hiring more military spouses. All I can say is, military spouses can pack up a whole house, plan a PCS, and tackle issues at work, all before lunch with ease.
That’s why I believe that we need to get more military spouses into Cybersecurity. The field is constantly changing, and military spouses have the ability to adapt to that change.
What advice would you give new spouses on entering or finding success in STEM career fields?
JUST GO FOR IT. Whatever that STEM career field is, do your research, make a plan, and do it. Immerse yourself in the community and start networking. You will be so proud on the other side.
What inspired you to volunteer with SMSS?
I was inspired to volunteer with SMSS to help with the military spouse unemployment rate. The military spouse unemployment rate is about 4x higher than the national average. Almost 90% of military spouses surveyed by the Department of Defense stated they felt underemployed. We have a group of untapped talent that are ready to work, we just need the flexibility to do so.
I virtually attended the Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Employment Summit and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden said something interesting. She said that “our troops cannot be focused on their mission if families do not have what they need to thrive at home…Giving military spouses the support they need to succeed is a matter of national security.”
That line really struck me because when families do not have access to stable incomes, it creates an economic stress on our military families. We have to do a better job as a society and on a personal level to tackle this issue. If you see a military spouse on LinkedIn looking for a job or trying to pivot into a new career field, see what YOU can do! That simple interaction creates a chain reaction in supporting our military families.
What is your volunteer role?
My current volunteer role is the Job Board Manager for SMSS. Members can check out the job board on our members only page for opportunities and share insights!
Do you have any go-to professional organizations, educational opportunities, job resources, or helping agencies that have supported your career growth?
Yes. I have several, but here are some that have been the more impactful the last couple of years. I would strongly urge military spouses to get on LinkedIn. It will open up a community of people ready to help.
- My Career Advancement Account Scholarship Program MyCAA
- Onward to Opportunity (O2O)
- BanjoCrashland (Absolutely amazing when it comes to job hunting process)
- Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu
- West Texas INFOSEC Society
- Alpha Cyber Security
- Black Hills Information Security