Cybersecurity student aims to help diversify the workforce
A lack of representation in the field led Niquete Dominique to establish the Women in Cybersecurity organization for MSU Denver students.
Niquete Dominique had always been interested in cybersecurity, but she found it hard to see herself in the male-dominated field.
Research shows that men make up 78.5% of the cybersecurity workforce, and 72.6% of analysts in the field are white. Students such as Dominique are taking advantage of — and starting — programs aimed at diversifying the field so they can feel confident in pursuing lucrative careers in one of the nation’s fastest-growing industries.
Dominique will graduate with her master’s in Cybersecurity from Metropolitan State University of Denver in December. She’ll be the first in her family to receive an advanced degree.
She’s always been passionate about technology and improving people’s lives, she said. Her goal was to get a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and Criminology, and she did in 2018. However, a class visit from Shane Jackson, lecturer in Computer Information Systems at MSU Denver, persuaded her to continue her studies. Jackson spoke to her class about the new Cybersecurity master’s program at MSU Denver.
“My passion has always been criminal justice, (but) what made me interested in cybersecurity was how it was growing,” Dominique said. “I felt that transitioning with my background into cybersecurity would (provide) me with way more opportunities to grow and have a better career.”
The master’s in Cybersecurity program started at MSU Denver in 2018 and took a unique approach. It combines classes from Criminal Justice and Criminology, Computer Information Systems and Computer Science. It’s also accredited through the Higher Learning Commission and designated as a Center of Academic Excellence by the National Security Agency.
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To help address her reservations about joining the field as a woman of color, she sought out a mentor through the University’s COMPASS program. The program helps students find resources and mentors who have experience in a given field.
“We thought it was important to provide a way for students with marginalized or BIPOC identities to get support,” said Eunice Reyes, who runs COMPASS. “Students sometimes don’t see themselves in the career they’re going into, and with COMPASS we bring in that component.”
Now, Dominique has a mentor in Denise Mowder, Ph.D., who’s in a field similar to the one Dominique wants to pursue. Mowder, a professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology at MSU Denver, has seen Dominique’s growth over the years.
“It’s hard for women to break into the cybersecurity industry,” Mowder said. “But I know Niquete will use her knowledge and skills in both criminal justice and cybersecurity to find the right niche.”
Before Dominique joined the Cybersecurity program at Metropolitan State University of Denver, she thought men didn’t want her or other women in the field, but she realized that wasn’t true.
To help address that common belief and encourage more women to join the field, Dominique started the Women in Cybersecurity student chapter at MSU Denver in 2019. The organization’s goal, according to its website, is to promote the recruitment, retention and advancement of women students in cybersecurity. They offer networking opportunities and peer mentorship and currently have 20 members. Mowder serves as a primary advisor.
“I always say to other women that they belong in those spaces,” Dominique said. “And I believe representation will change in the future.”