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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Abiodun Olaluwe decided to dedicate himself to the cause of information security when he was still a teenager. That dedication, which he shared with anyone who would listen, has driven him to build the kind of professional and academic credentials he could have only dreamed about as he was growing up in Africa.
Today, Abiodun is working toward his Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Prairie View A&M while he also serves as a Cyber Operations officer in the U.S. Army.
“I was born in Abeokuta, Nigeria, the home of Wole Soyinka, the first Nobel Laureate in Literature in Africa,” Abiodun said. “This humble beginning informed the resolve, intensity and grit that fuels the passion toward my life goals.”
Abiodun is getting some help pursuing those goals after he was selected to join the inaugural cohort in the Palo Alto Networks Cyber Scholars program, and he says the assistance has already made a difference for him.
“It has been so rewarding and fulfilling,” Abiodun said of the program. “It’s eased the financial stress so I can focus on what matters most.”
What matters most to Abiodun is growing his knowledge base and skillset as a cyber warrior, “the urge to keep learning,” as he puts it.
The dream began taking shape in Nigeria when Abiodun earned his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Obafemi Awolowo University and took off after he graduated from Prairie View A&M with his M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering.
With degrees in hand, Abiodun joined the Army in 2015 and served as an assistant security manager and crew chief for an aviation unit based in Germany.
He used the lessons he learned from the military and from the four years he spent as a project engineer for Nokia Siemens Networks in Nigeria as his foundation for continued growth.
“Over the years, I have refined my goal and added a lot of things to it,” he said. “I’ve added data science, I’ve added software engineering and that’s really helped me because that’s widened my horizons to all the possibilities that are out there.”
The Cyber Scholars program is all about exploring potential horizons and boosting opportunities. Now in his fifth year of Army service, Abiodun has set his sights on completing his doctoral journey in 2024, then making a transition to civilian life and building a career that has an impact.
“I want to solve meaningful engineering problems,” he said, adding that he plans to “work for a while, then float a start up.”
In whatever way he approaches his future, Abiodun is focused on making the most of the help the Cyber Scholars program is providing. He knows that keeping networks and information safe from cyber threats is a 24/7/365 pursuit that requires vigilance, training, and skill.
“[Cybersecurity] is constantly evolving,” he said. “And I really love the challenges and opportunities it presents.”