I got into cyber – I inherited cybersecurity when I was the Deputy CIO for Policy and Planning at the Department of Agriculture. Not only did I not have a background in agriculture (I was born and raised in West Philadelphia), I had not worked directly with any cyber activities to that date in my career. God has a sense of humor, but that is a story for another day. 

A positive cyber mindset is – Keeping an open mind and building a cyber resilient culture. The culture of cyber is important as it helps protect company assets from hardware to data. It needs to be part of a broader corporate culture of day-to-day actions that encourage employees to make thoughtful decisions that align with security policies. A security culture is more than just cybersecurity awareness. 

The qualifications that set me up for success – My liberal arts degree (sociology major) and my MBA in Marketing. With the first degree, I learned how to understand people and their behaviors and the second helped me to understand and use analytical thinking to get to the bottom of their behavior, and creative thinking to invent strategies that will guide that behavior. When I started my career, cyber was not a career option. Today, a STEM track might get you there faster, a liberal arts degree will help students take the scenic route to a cybersecurity career, the ability to “think outside the box”, and gaining key skills and insights that we might not encounter in a traditional STEM program. 

The biggest influencers in my life – My parents. They encouraged me to do those things that did not come easy. Sometimes I succeeded and sometimes not. When I succeeded, they allowed a limited time for celebration and then move on to the next challenge. They never wanted me to feel entitled or get a “big head”. If I was not successful, try, try again.

After serving in World War 2 in General George Patton’s unit, my dad became an electrician because many institutions of higher learning were not accepting African Americans in their engineering program. After a few years, he applied for the Master Electrician exam. The first time he failed and the reason they gave him was they did not believe Black people could pass the test the first time and that he must have cheated (really? How would he have gotten a copy of the exam?). He was not going to go back, but my mother encouraged him to take the test again and again and again. After the 10th time, the City of Philadelphia finally agreed that he obviously had the knowledge to take AND PASS the test 10 different times. My dad was certified as the first African American Master Electrician in Philadelphia.  

My recommended read – For pleasure, anything by Walter Mosley. For business, Malcolm Gladwell. 

What I thought I wanted to be when I grew up – I thought I wanted to be a scientist or nurse. Organic/inorganic chemistry put a stop to that – LOL. 

A favorite place of mine – Singapore (Asia for beginners). Great food, great atmosphere, and good times. Visited twice for business and twice for pleasure. 

My inspiration – My grandchildren, watching them blossom, having the opportunity to share my journey with them, and being a sounding board.  

Something few people know about me is – I played the piano from the time I was 8 until I graduated from college. Played at church, in the high school jazz band and orchestra, and for the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra. 

What I most want to be remembered for is – The impact on those less fortunate or who are coming behind me. 

What is the Data Science Camp Inc. – I created the Data Science Camp Inc. in 2014 when I was the Deputy CIO for Policy and Planning at the Department of Agriculture in response to President Barack Obama’s Executive Order on Open Data. It has been hosted by the University of the District of Columbia since 2017. It is designed to immerse underserved and underrepresented youth in an intensive, design-thinking, project-based effort to use data to address important issues of public policy related to agriculture. Divided into teams of no more than five students each and under the close supervision of faculty and experts, participants work with official USDA-provided and other data sets to define, shape, research, analyze, and present their findings on a topic they choose from a short list of key themes provided by faculty and USDA. 

What makes these programs distinctive is their learning design. Days are not spent in classroom lectures but in active, hands-on, team-based working sessions to explore and master all the different steps of a well-organized project to drive innovation in public policy: problem definition; constituency mapping; data gathering, cleaning, analysis, and visualization; conclusion framing; shaping of an appropriate narrative; and presentation. In parallel, students get detailed instruction in – and get to work closely with – the best current software tools to support their efforts at each project stage.  

What makes these programs significant is their objective. They are not – and are not intended to be — mini-coding academies. They are living workshops in using data to drive policy innovation on difficult and important public issues.  STEAM is purposely designed so that they discover – by doing – that they can, indeed, make a real contribution to progress against such issues. 

Perhaps most important, what makes these programs effective is that, through hands-on experience, participants build awareness of what is possible and confidence in their own ability to contribute. They frame, they work with data, they analyze, they conclude, they structure the narrative, and they present. They practice, redo, practice again, and improve. The summer of 2022 introduced the Science Technology Engineering Athletics and Math (STEAM) summer camp at Bowie State University and we are hoping to launch the Science Technology Engineering, Energy and Math (STEEM) camp in 2023. Inspiring the next generation of data and cyber ninjas.