It is easy to see that the apple does not fall far from the tree. Loveona Jones is a self-proclaimed military brat and the daughter of a computer specialist for the United States Army Corp of Engineers. Loveona's mother sparked her passion for computers and inspired her pursuit of a thriving career in information technology.
In September 2020, while enrolled in the SANS Undergraduate Certificate in Applied Cybersecurity (ACS) program, Loveona was awarded a coveted nine-month internship with the Department of State's Office of Artificial Intelligence and Emerging Technologies (AIET) through the Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS). VSFS is a federal program that enables students to apply for virtual internships across multiple federal agencies.
In this position with AIET, Loveona creates meaningful data analytics dashboards for various government agencies. She credits ACS with giving her the knowledge she needed to secure the internship and do her job well.
Loveona was granted her SANS Undergraduate Certificate in Applied Cybersecurity (ACS) in November 2020 when she was in her senior year of college. She is set to graduate in spring 2021 from George Mason University with a bachelor's degree in Information Technology.
Here, Loveona talks to us about her experience with the SANS.edu ACS program and offers advice to those considering a similar path.
Q. How did you get interested in cybersecurity?
A. I have been interested in computers for as long as I can remember. But it was not until 2017 that my journey toward a cybersecurity career was set in motion. I was hooked after participating in SANS' CyberStart, a free national program for students to learn about cybersecurity and provide a gateway to the industry. Two years, and much studying, later, I entered the SANS Cyber FastTrack competition and was awarded one of 100 scholarships to the SANS.edu ACS program. I was a junior in college at that time.
Q. Prior to attending the SANS Technology Institute, what was your educational background?
A. I graduated from high school in 2013 after being homeschooled since 6th grade. In 2016, I enrolled in George Mason University majoring in Applied Information Technology with a concentration in Database Technology and Programming. I am also double minoring in Geography and Computational and Data Sciences.
Q. Why did you choose to enroll in SANS Technology Institute's ACS program?
A. I would be lying if I did not tell you that the scholarship played an important role in my decision. However, I did my research before enrolling. I was very impressed by the duality of the program. I liked the idea that I could work and take other university courses while at the same time participate in the SANS.edu ACS program.
Q. What did receiving the Cyber FastTrack scholarship mean to you?
A. Receiving the Cyber FastTrack scholarship has fundamentally changed my future. The scholarship afforded me unique experiences and fostered new professional goals - to look beyond information technology and explore an exciting career in cybersecurity. I've met and connected with so many people on different paths in their journey toward a cybersecurity career and that encourages me to keep on pushing. I have completed my first certifications and I now have more experience and knowledge to back up my resume. I feel like I am on my way to a great future!
Q. From your research how did the ACS program differ from your current undergraduate degree program?
A. SANS is more comprehensive in both foundational and practical education. SANS enables students to apply new knowledge by engaging them with hands-on exercises. It is not theoretical or too academic. It is real world.
Q. What did you find most valuable about the program?
A. The labs. Hands down. The labs provide comprehensive hands-on experience. They were interactive, scalable and practical. The real-world situations presented to us - they felt so real.
Q. Did you take classes online or at live events?
A. Due to the pandemic, I took all of my classes online. However, Slack and LinkedIn enabled me to stay connected and interact well with other SANS students.
Q. How has the SANS.edu Career Center helped you in your search for internships and jobs?
A. The SANS.edu Career Center empowered me to put my best self forward and to be confident in my training. The Career Center offers immense resources. Professionals working in the center presented me with a great understanding of the diverse and exciting jobs that encompass the cybersecurity field. Further, they provided guidance on updating my resume and LinkedIn profile and offered terrific approaches to searching for a job. They also assisted me in honing my interview skills. The Career Center gave me skills and advice that will follow me throughout my career.
Q. How has your SANS.edu certificate impacted your career trajectory?
A. My SANS undergraduate certificate has opened up an exciting new career path. It has bolstered my resume with real-world experience and comprehensive certifications. And it has inspired me to commit myself to continuous learning in a field that is ever changing.
Q. What advice would you offer someone considering applying to the SANS Technology Institute?
A. ACS is a challenging program. You must be persistent and be prepared to work. This program has afforded me so many opportunities. The challenges have been well worth the reward.
Q. What's next for Loveona Jones?
A. I will graduate from George Mason University in
spring 2021. And I am very excited to announce that I will soon begin
an internship with SAIC, a premier Fortune 500® technology integrator
working across the defense, space, civilian, and intelligence markets.