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From First Generation to Next Generation

Cyber Scholar Alivia Blog (1)

By: Anthony Tuttle, Social Impact Program Manager

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 through 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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What started as curiosity about her mother’s work in information technology blossomed into a full-blown passion for cybersecurity by the time Alivia Ross started high school. In ninth grade Alivia got involved in the CyberPatriot program created by the Air and Space Forces Association to promote STEM careers, serving as team lead for her school until she graduated.

“I found a lot of enjoyment and intrigue in the broad areas and possibilities of cybersecurity, so it was natural for me to pursue that area as I went into my undergraduate degree,” she said. It also felt natural for her to choose a Historically Black College and University such as Bowie State. 

“Being a first-generation college student, college was always full of possibilities,” she said. “Being African American also impacted my academic journey by inspiring me to go to an HBCU and to surround myself with mentors who are People of Color and can help me navigate those spaces. “

Now, as a second-year student with junior standing at Bowie State University, Alivia is planning to turn that passion into a profession and she is grateful that Palo Alto Networks is helping her reach that goal through its Cyber Scholars program.

“As a Cyber Scholar, I have had the opportunity to connect with my amazing mentor, which has been really cool because she's given me a person in the field to turn to with questions,” Alivia said.

Alivia is working as an information security intern at State Farm while pursuing her degree, and says that Bowie State is turning out to be everything she wanted.

“I have loved the amazing opportunities I have had to participate in various research and competitions with my professors,” she said. “I also love the hands-on experiences I get to have in my classes such as building networks in packet tracer and setting up operating systems. I am part of my school's honors organization and a McNair Scholar, both of which have given me unconditional support and motivation to explore new opportunities.”

Looking ahead, Alivia has a definite idea of what she wants to accomplish – and why.

“After I finish my undergraduate degree, I plan to pursue a master's degree,” she said. “My long-term goal is to work in cybercrime investigations or in a security operations center. But after that, I want to become a teacher and teach cybersecurity to high school students and give them the same kind of opportunities and experience that I have had.”

Alivia also has some advice for students who may want to follow her path toward success.

“Mentors are important,” she said. “Make connections and shoot for the stars. Even if you don't think you will get a ‘yes,’ still ask or still apply. Let them reject you, don't reject yourself first.”


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