Looking back on her current success, Christine Izuakor ’16 points to a pivotal conversation with a former mentor who expressed a pessimistic view on potential contributions to the field of security by a young woman, especially in her early twenties.
A record-breaker and trendsetter in her own right, Izuakor rejected the notion that her age could limit the heights to which she would climb. That conversation forced her to reflect on tenants her family taught her.
“My family struggled on and off with affording food and electricity,” Izuakor said. “I watched my parents leave everything they knew to come to America to sacrifice so my siblings and I could have better lives. It’s been a huge motivation for me.”
After earning her master’s degree, Izuakor took a year to work in the field. With clarity gained in her time away from school, Christine set her sights on taking the field of security by storm. To do so, she put the goal of a doctoral degree on her to-do list.
“I came across the UCCS doctoral program in security. I reached out to a professor, and the dynamic was super good, but I was in a unique situation because I wasn’t living in Colorado,” she said. “Ultimately, I’m super thankful because while it wasn’t an online program, the faculty and team were willing to accommodate and support me.”
Izuakor enrolled in the Doctor of Philosophy in Security Engineering program within the College of Engineering and Applied Science, and despite taking classes remotely, she found ways to succeed.
“It wasn’t easy, and there were difficulties, especially working full-time as a minority in the cybersecurity space,” Izuakor said. “I remember one time I had to participate in an in-person presentation, but I was able to do it via Skype. All of my professors stayed in close contact with me.”
With understanding from her professors and fellow classmates, Izuakor was able to dig in and design her studies around her career goals.
“You’d assume you’re learning more about in-depth security, but the way I was able to design my program, it was a lot of work in systems engineering, and growing my security knowledge through additional classes,” she said.
Izuakor learned how to take hyper-complicated and challenging problems and break them into accomplishable chunks, from which she could create and deliver solutions.
“It’s something that in my work today, there’s just so many areas where it applies,” she said. “Learning it at UCCS is something I’ll never forget.”
She said she’ll also never forget the opportunity her research allowed her to take part in — presenting at an international cybersecurity conference. “It was my first conference ever, and by presenting, it helped build the confidence that I could contribute something to this industry.”
At UCCS, she realized she had already proved her old mentor wrong as she shattered records, earning her Ph.D at just 27 years old. She was the youngest woman and the first African American woman to do so.
“In order to accomplish goals, you need to believe in yourself,” Izuakor said. “Especially people who come from certain backgrounds, if you’re teaching yourself not to dream in fear of not being disappointed. It’s important to know it’s okay to dream beyond that. If people think you’re crazy, it’s important to protect your dreams.”
Protecting her dreams allowed her, now known as Dr. Izuakor in the field of cybersecurity, to become United Airlines’ Senior Manager of Global Security and Awareness.
Izuakor is now recognized as an influencer in the field of technology and security and focuses on encouraging other young people to seize their dreams. She credits UCCS with helping fuel hers.
“I think for UCCS to be one of the first universities with a reputable and customizable degree is huge. You can pick which areas you want to focus on, and it’s easy to overlook that there are so many subdisciplines in cyber. The program truly got me ready to persevere even today.”