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Cyber Scholar Ready to Reach Her Next Horizon

Anthony Tuttle

Chelsea Coleman Barker

The Palo Alto Networks Cyber Scholars program is part of our Cyber STARS initiative, which aims to address the racial disparity in technology fields – particularly in the Black community – by increasing exposure, access, opportunities, and support to underrepresented students. 

In addition to direct financial assistance to pursue their academic goals, Cyber Scholars are also paired with a Palo Alto Networks mentor to support their personal and professional growth. The first cohort of 14 Cyber Scholars for the 2022-2023 academic year all attended Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs).

For the 2023-2024 academic year, Palo Alto Networks is once again collaborating with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) to select and award up to $10,000 scholarships to outstanding students. Interested applicants are encouraged to apply now between February 6 - March 27, 2023.

Throughout Black History Month and Women's History Month, we’re excited to share the stories of some of our stellar 2022-2023 Cyber Scholars.

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When she looks toward her future in cybersecurity, Chelsea Coleman Barker has some very specific goals in mind.

“I selected cybersecurity because I became fascinated by the rise of cyberattacks that compromised big corporations such as Yahoo, Target and Home Depot,” said Chelsea, a senior at Grambling State University. “I wanted to better understand how threat actors did what they did and what remediation tactics were used to combat them.”

Her fascination gave rise to the idea of working as a penetration tester, an objective she is closer to reaching now thanks to being selected in the first cohort of Palo Alto Networks Cyber Scholars.

“The program has impacted me greatly as it helped ease the financial burden for my final year of university,” Chelsea said. “Connection with an additional mentor within the cybersecurity space has been a wonderful addition. The monthly check-ins that we have to just catch up and answer industry and or personal questions about cybersecurity are an amazing resource that was given to us.”

“Chelsea is a phenomenal scholar,” said Wanjiru Allen, a Systems Engineering Specialist and Chelsea’s mentor. “She always comes to our calls letting me know about things she's working on as well as how her senior year is going. She always comes with questions for me as well. It's been a very meaningful time for me and I'm just so thankful for the opportunity to help her in this journey.”

In addition to the Cyber Scholars program, Chelsea has immersed herself in all of the opportunities she has found as a cybersecurity major at Grambling.

I am a part of CMAST, which is a STEM organization on our campus that gives resources, workshops and opportunities to students,” she said, adding that she is also proud of being a three-year volunteer for the CyberForce Competition run by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Chelsea was also selected for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund Leadership Institute in 2022, which turned out to be a memorable event.

“I was able to travel to New York to network with over 100 companies,” she said. “During that time there were various workshops and speakers at the event and, on the last night, there was a gala to celebrate TMCF and the scholars.”

While Chelsea’s focus on her cybersecurity goals is pretty complete, she finds time to enjoy cooking, reading, shopping and learning languages that so far have included working on Spanish and Japanese.

With graduation looming this spring, Chelsea is now deep into preparing for the launch of her career journey, a prospect she is excited about.

“During my time in the workforce, I plan to acquire additional security certifications,” she said. “A few years down the line, once I have gained experience within the industry, I will be going back to school to obtain my master’s degree in cybersecurity because it’s my wish to someday become a college professor and teach cybersecurity.”

Chelsea is also aware that her career path and the support she is getting from the Cyber Scholars program are helping her advance a greater goal.

“Being an African American female has allowed me to meet wonderful people within the industry, but I have had the eye-opening realization that the field doesn’t have a lot of people who look like me in it,” she said. “As a result, that has been a motivator to be the best that I can be within this field and in the future to pass down my knowledge and expertise to the next generation of cyber experts.”


Anthony Tuttle

Social Impact Program Manager

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