For Brookdale alumni Colin Mahns and Laura Ostar, community college was a wise choice.
The recent Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) grads took advantage of two unique training programs sponsored at Brookdale by the National Science Foundation (NSF), gaining valuable hands-on experience that has paid significant dividends both in and out of the classroom.
Mahns, of Shrewsbury, was one of more than 20 students from across New Jersey selected to join the nation’s first ever Cyber Aces cybersecurity training program, which opened its doors at Brookdale in 2013. Using a series of intensive, hands-on training courses and live-action exercises, the program prepares students to become “digital warriors” in the increasingly difficult fight against online hackers, identify thieves and other cyber-criminals.
As a recent high school graduate and a Brookdale network technology major, Mahns originally didn’t know very much about cybersecurity. He was planning to transfer to a four-year school and pursue a career as a system administrator when professors Michael Qaissaunee and Mohammad Shanehsaz encouraged him to join the new Cyber Aces Academy.
Training under top industry professionals over the next year, Mahns worked his way through a demanding gauntlet of hands-on courses and exercises, acquiring the knowledge and honing the skills necessary to become a high-level cybersecurity professional.
Those skills proved their worth almost immediately, when the recent Brookdale graduate was selected for a highly competitive summer internship with the CBS network. Only three months later, Mahns was offered a full-time position.
“Colin’s level of experience and exposure to cyber security has been instrumental,” said Christopher Ashby, manager of Threat Intelligence and Vulnerability Management at CBS. “His level of in-depth industry knowledge, research discipline, countermeasure techniques, operating system exposure, and passion for security has been a welcome addition to the team.
“He has specifically contributed to the creation of various scripts that automate our analysis … and takes it upon himself to generate intel bulletins used to identify emerging threats to the organization and provides recommended actions to be taken,” Ashby added. “He is a true star from a program that continues to find and train the brightest cyber professionals and prepare for a professional career.”
Looking back on his journey, which began only four years ago when he enrolled in Brookdale’s Fast Start program as a high school senior, Mahns said he is grateful to have been given the opportunity to pursue such a worthwhile career.
“I wasn’t interested in this kind of work as I didn’t have too much of an idea on how to get into the information security field,” he said. “Participating in CyberAces helped expand my skill set and knowledge and helped give me the courage to apply for my current position. I’d easily recommend working in information security to others and would recommend those who feel like they aren’t ‘qualified’ to work in this field to apply. It’s a growing field and we need people to help.”
Ostar, a 2014 engineering graduate, spent her last semester at Brookdale working on the NSF’s E-books and Mobile Apps for Technician Education (E-MATE) initiative, a national, grant-funded effort to create a reusable framework for e-books and mobile applications that promote teaching and learning.
She worked alongside faculty and fellow students on a comprehensive series of projects to further the E-MATE initiative, using a wide range of computer software and web-based design and communications platforms to develop two interactive e-textbooks: Fundamentals of Light and Lasers, Course 1 and Introduction to the Automated Warehouse.
In recognition of her work, the NSF selected Ostar to present at the Advanced Technological Education Principal Investigators Conference in Washington D.C. in October, where she joined dozens of outstanding students, industry leaders, government officials and academic authorities from across the country.
During the conference, titled “Preparing the Technical Workforce Through Innovation, Creativity & Practice,” Ostar also participated in an E-MATE session presentation, staffed a project showcase booth, was honored at a student breakfast and presented a poster at an exhibit highlighting her program of study and career path.
“The ATE conference was so cool,” said Ostar, explaining how the E-MATE experience provided her with advancement and networking opportunities should could never have found elsewhere.
“I was nervous because I hadn’t presented this way before, but luckily I had an excellent speech teacher at Brookdale: Joan Scocco. The whole presentation went smoothly, and conference attendees were very interested in how well Brookdale and E-MATE prepared me for university. As a student attending the conference, I felt very welcomed.”
As she prepares to graduate from Rutgers University in May, Ostar is now applying to doctoral programs with the ultimate goal of becoming a professor or laboratory researcher. Thanks to Brookdale and her experience with the E-MATE grant initiative, Ostar said she is confident she can accomplish whatever she chooses.
“It feels amazing to have accomplished what I have, and I am so grateful to all of the opportunities that Brookdale has offered me,” she said, specifically thanking faculty and staff members such as Michael Qaissaunee and Brookdale E-MATE program administrator Kelly Parr.
“I believed, like many other people, that while a community college education was good, the opportunities to do research, build longer relationships with professors, and work on projects were more plentiful at larger universities. Boy, was I wrong! … I am so happy that I ended up at Brookdale. It has given me so much and I advertise it to every high school student that I know! I would like to thank every teacher that I had while at Brookdale, each and every one gave me a stellar education, a great relationship, and opportunities inside or outside the classroom to expand my skills even further.”
According to Parr, Ostar is going to continue to make Brookdale proud for years to come.
“She has such poise, and great interpersonal skills,” Parr said. “She is going to do great things.”
To learn more about Brookdale’s new STEM Institute, click here.