USM Student Earns Prestigious Research Opportunity in Cybersecurity | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

03/15/2024 – 08:50am | By: Van Arnold

University of Southern Mississippi (USM) student Canela Slade relished her time as
a math teacher on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but a passion for cybersecurity has
now coaxed her down a different career path.

And that path has led to Slade’s selection for a prestigious research opportunity
through the National Science Foundation at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
(NMT). The REU Emerging Issues in Cybersecurity is funded by the National Science Foundation Directorate for Computer and Information
Science and Engineering (CISE). 

The program offers a 10-week summer research experience at NMT hosted by the Department
of Computer Science and Engineering. The program’s goals include providing students
with experience in cutting edge research in cybersecurity, broadening participation
in computing, and motivating students to pursue graduate studies in computer science. 

Slade, who is on track to earn her undergraduate degree in December, was chosen to
attend the program from a large pool of candidates nationwide. The program will be
held from May 26 through August 3.

“The moment I received my letter of acceptance elicited a profound sense of accomplishment
and gratitude,” she said. “It was a moment of validation that continued education,
hard work, and dedication can inspire future educational opportunities.”

The extensive application process included a required recommendation and endorsement
from a current or former professor. Slade credits the mentorship provided by Dr. Silvia
Preston, an instructor in USM’s School of Computing Sciences and Computer Engineering,
for helping to secure the coveted spot.

Slade took one of Preston’s courses in 2023 and is currently enrolled in another.
Preston speaks highly of Slade’s work ethic.

“Canela is organized, intelligent, and reliable. She is an easily teachable person,”
said Preston. “Canela submits all of her assignments on time and her work is always
spotless. Her attention to details is superb. She is an impressive student who goes
beyond what is required of her. She does not aim for less.”

Preston continued, “When I asked Canela why her research in cybersecurity is important
to her, she stated that it underpins the development of new strategies, technologies,
and defense mechanisms that support evolving digital landscapes worldwide. It is valuable
to her to apply her knowledge to harness learning in practical ways. There is no doubt
in my mind that she will be an excellent researcher for the summer cybersecurity research
program at New Mexico Tech.”

Slade, who calls the Gulf Coast area home, is a U.S. Army veteran who earned an undergraduate
degree from the University of South Alabama in education and foreign languages. She
taught 5th grade math in the Long Beach (Miss.) Public School District, earning Teacher of the
Year in 2017-18. She taught 6th grade math in the Biloxi (Miss.) School District where she earned VFW Teacher of
the Year in 2021-22. All total, she spent nine years in the teaching profession.

She explained that several factors contributed to her decision to pursue a degree
in cybersecurity, with two standing out.

“One was based on my genuine curiosity after exposure to a real-world breach in which
physical security and network security were compromised,” she said. “Another factor
was based on support from those closest to me – my family, friends, and former students.
I always encouraged my young mathematicians to seek opportunities in STEM, and they
in return challenged me to do more of that.”

During the summer program at New Mexico Tech, students will gain hands-on experience,
while learning from industry leaders and expert researchers. Slade notes that she
is extremely excited to put theory-based knowledge she has gained at USM to the test.

Her short-range goals include completing her undergraduate degree at USM, while fully
participating in University-based organizations and professional development associations.
Long-term, she plans to pursue a Master of Science in cybersecurity and eventually
work toward a doctorate. Along the way, she hopes to become a certified professional
and secure industry-recognized certifications.

“Cybersecurity is a broad and dynamic field to enter which is amazing because there
are opportunities for everyone,” said Slade. “It is hard to say what doors will open
for me and where I will end up, but whatever that is, I will aspire to contribute
to the overall strength of the field and continue to promote mentorships.”


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