KALAMAZOO, Mich.—There is nothing like a good mystery or the intrigue of secret messages. For sophomore Evelyn Ortiz-Martinez, that feeling is part of what she loves about her chosen major at Western Michigan University—cybersecurity, specifically the encryption and decryption side.
“Encryptions are based on mathematical formulas,” says Ortiz-Martinez of Chelsea, Michigan. “They work well because the computers we have today take an extremely long time to decode the encryption.” But in an evolving field, change is just around the corner, including the development of quantum computers that will be able to decode encryption incredibly fast.
“This speed will cause a huge risk to online security as almost everything uses encryption,” explains Ortiz-Martinez. “In this field, I will have the opportunity to constantly learn and adapt strategies to such new technologies.”
Although she is open to a variety of career paths, Ortiz-Martinez is currently seeking to become a cybersecurity consultant or part of a Red Team as an ethical hacker who helps test an organization's systems by identifying vulnerabilities and launching attacks in a control environment.
Ortiz-Martinez began delving into computers during high school when her geometry teacher convinced her to join the high school FIRST Robotics team and take a beginner-level computer science class.
“Flash forward to my first year of college at WMU,” adds Ortiz-Martinez. “I joined the Bronco Cybersecurity Club and got a job at the Office of Information Technology help desk. I fell in love with working with networks, learning about the importance of cybersecurity and potentially learning how to hack. That is why I chose cybersecurity as my major.”
With the employment prospects for cybersecurity professionals expected to grow 32% by 2028, Ortiz-Martinez is confident she will find just the right path. As a member of the Bronco Cybersecurity Club, Ortiz-Martinez participates in events and has met other students and alumni who are helping her refine her plans and learn more about the field she has her eyes set on.
“I love having the flexibility and freedom to find a specific part of cybersecurity I love and do that as my career,” she says.
With a booming career field, she spends time exploring and learning the possibilities. Joining the student organization her first year meant finding mentors and getting to know other students, professors and alumni who share her interests in all things cybersecurity.
“Not only do I have a good relationship with the people in the club, but most of them have become my mentors,” says Ortiz-Martinez. “Professors in the degree program have also become involved with our organization, which means I get to have a more personal mentoring relationship with my them.”
While Ortiz-Martinez is just in her second year at Western, she has already made progress toward her goals through activities, work and studies—taking advantage of all WMU has to offer. It isn’t all computers and hacking; Ortiz-Martinez is all about trying new things. To fulfill some of her Western Essential Studies course requirements, Ortiz-Martinez took a rock climbing course and learned a new life skill.
“I’m going to be completely honest. I was very nervous about this class,” says Ortiz-Martinez. “I assumed I was going to be terrible and being afraid of heights didn’t help. It ended up being one of my favorite classes during that semester and really helped me learn how to push myself and get out of my comfort zone.”
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