African Women in Cyber Security: Spotlight on Christine Izuakor

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This week on African women in cyber security, we feature the amazing Christine Izuakor. According to Chicago business, Christine started down the path toward medicine, but it turned out she had more of a knack for diagnosing computer viruses than those in humans:)

In her words “I started my PhD program at age 23 and at the time was told I was too young, too naive and too inexperienced to contribute anything to my industry. But, I stood by my dream and turned doubt into motivation. To anyone who has been taught that it’s unrealistic to dream, I assure you that it’s indeed okay to dream big. With hard work and dedication, we can defy all odds and shatter ceilings. Dare to dream, and be brave enough to execute.”

Who is Christine Izuakor?

Christine Izuakor is a Senior Security Analyst at United Airlines. In this role, she is responsible for managing numerous security functions from network vulnerability management to negotiating legal aspects of data security for contracts across the enterprise.

Christine Izuakor on Childhood

From childhood to adulthood, education has always been an integral part of my upbringing. In the 80’s both of my parents came to America from Nigeria to pursue higher education and new opportunities. It was natural that education was such a huge priority; so much so that I didn’t even know that attending university was “optional” until I was graduating from high school and saw some people in my school choosing not to go. I am very thankful that my parents raised me in this way because it’s cultivated a true passion for continuous learning and made me the person I am today.

What got Christine into Cyber Security

She stumbled into computer security while studying business at DeVry, where she took an information-security class as an elective and had to decrypt a cipher. “I was up till 3 a.m. trying to crack this,” she says. “It was the adrenaline rush I got, trying to do it.”

That led to a master’s program in information systems security at the University of Houston, which opened the door to an internship at Continental Airlines. “I had no idea there were cyber security opportunities in the airline industry,” said Izuakor, who ended up in Chicago after the merger of Continental and United.

Christine Izuakor on Work and Educational Experience

Christine earned a Ph.D. in security engineering from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, becoming the youngest and first African American woman to do so at the university. She is also the co-founder and Vice President of Gen Trend, United Airlines’ Millennial business resource group; a business resource group within United Airlines. The organizations mission is to attract, engage, and retain the next generation of aviation employees and customers. Her research focuses on critical infrastructure security and has been published in several international journals, including the International Journal of Critical Infrastructure Protection. Her original contributions to the security industry have also been presented in international conferences from Washington, DC to Rome, Italy. Christine also completed a master’s degree in information systems security from University of Houston in 2012 and is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP).

Dr. Izuakor is also active in the diversity and inclusion community. She is a co-founder and the Vice President of Gen Trend, United Airlines’ Millennial business resource group, serves as the Head Editor of the Illinois Diversity Council Editorial Board, is a member of the National Diversity Council Newsletter Committee, and volunteers as a cyber-security mentor with YearUp.

When asked how she feels about being the first African-American and youngest to complete a PHD at 27.

It feels very exciting! We all know about the shortage of women in both STEM and cyber security. I am just glad to not only have studied a topic that I am very passionate about, but to also act as an example for other women and minorities who don’t see this as a traditional career option. I also feel a sense of pride and extreme gratitude when I think about where I started and the many sacrifices that my parents made to enable such an accomplishment.

African Women in Cyber Security: Spotlight on Christine Izuakor

Christine Izuakor on Being a Mentor

Time management has been a tremendous skill set that I’ve developed over several years. During my academic journey, I always worked full-time and engaged in many other charity and leisurely activities as well. I still maintained relationships and friends. I still made time for plenty of rest. Being able to make the most of every single minute has been extremely important. I plan every day out, including transition times. More specifically, every few hours I create tasks lists, and then I cross things out as I go so that I know how I’m progressing.

I also often re-prioritize the lists several times throughout the day. If I find myself procrastinating, I have learned to call myself out on it as well. To paint a picture of what my typical week looked like last year: On weekdays, I would work my 8 hour day…come home and eat dinner, and then go straight to library or Starbucks to do school work for 3-5 hours, often times until they closed. This still left me with 8-10 hours to sleep and rest each day. Then, I always tried to keep my weekends open to travel, socialize, rest, do charity work and take care of everything else.

Christine on where she draws her Inspiration

A great deal of my inspiration and motivation comes from pain. There are certain struggles I remember from childhood that I simply don’t want to experience again, and so I work very hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. For a while, i have drawn inspiration from many different people and platforms, so I don’t really have specific role models. I look for people who have made it where I am trying to go, study their journeys, and use their lessons to create my own path and inspire my own journey. I also follow different inspirational pages and powerful multi-faceted women profiles on Instagram for inspiration. A few people I draw quite a bit of inspiration from include Michelle Obama, Sharon Grant, my family, Onika Maraj, and a young woman I recently met through Year Up, Symone Latham-Dior.

Christine’s Advice to Other Women in Cyber Security

“Too often we, especially women, fear failure, what people will think, or not having all of the right answers. I think that inhibits our ability to dream beyond what those before us have done. Many instead get stuck in doing what’s ‘expected’ of us from parents, society, our cultures, etc. Those elements are important to acknowledge and honor, but can sometimes be limiting in today’s world.”

Instead, be curious. Don’t be afraid to question the way things have been done. Don’t be afraid to question the way people think. If your friends aren’t challenging you to consider different perspectives and outlooks, find new friends or explore new circles. It is questioning our norms that allows barriers to be overcome, ceilings to be shattered, and records to be broken. Questioning even my own way of thinking, has enabled me to break barriers and do things. These things, I didn’t know were possible; even when I didn’t have another role model or example to follow.

CONNECT WITH CHRISTINE  on Linkedin , Twitter and Instagram

Do you Know an African woman who is doing amazing things in Cyber Security? Leave us a message at shesecuresng@gmail.com for to get featured on our weekly spotlight column.

While you’re at it don’t forget to check out last week’s spotlight featuring Debora Plunkett first  African Women to hold the Director of NSA.

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