Addressing diversity in cybersecurity | Madison Schuster ’22

Photo by Gabby Hensley

Madison Schuster came into UCCS with her major undecided, expecting to pursue a track in the mathematics field. By her junior year, she had secured a cybersecurity internship that would eventually turn into a full-time position after graduation.

The Computer Science alumna is currently an Assistant Software Engineer at Stephenson Stellar Corporation, where she conducts cybersecurity research in 5G, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and space. The variety that comes with the role is one of the best parts of the job, according to Madison. She sat down with UCCS to share about her experience and what makes cybersecurity a great option for future students to pursue.

“I’m excited to wake up and go to work every morning because of the new challenges that I get to solve every day,” Madison shared. “It’s not the same thing every time I go into work – sometimes it’s coding to help develop an application we’re working on, sometimes it’s cybersecurity research and finding out how to ‘crack this box.’”

Another part of Madison’s work that she loves is the impact it’s making, not only through her job and on a broader, nationwide level but also in smaller, more personal ways.

“What makes me passionate about cybersecurity is that it’s engaging. It’s real-world problems that we have to solve, but also the real-world impact of keeping data safe, from satellites to personal information like teaching my relatives not to fall for credit card scams,” she explained. “How do I keep myself, my job and our nation safe? Meeting those challenges is what inspires me day-to-day.”

Though cybersecurity and computer science can be challenging material, Madison noted how the resources at UCCS are abundant and that the adaptability and flexibility skills she picked up during school go a long way.

“This is a degree that’s going to challenge you,” she said. “It’s going to be a little difficult, but there’s also this amazing support system and a passionate and interested community who wants to see you succeed. My UCCS degree helped prepare me by exposing me to a lot of different things. I quickly learned that in coding, it’s not so much how well you write a coding language that matters, it’s how well can you pick up new languages.”

“That adaptability and skillset are really helping me out now,” she added. “I’m able to pick up new languages, new skills and new tools I’ve never used before, and apply them to these real-world situations because that’s what I was doing at UCCS – trying new projects, new languages and new classes in fields I had never considered before.”

Beyond the coursework-related support that Madison utilized on campus, like the Cybersecurity Programs Office that helped her secure an internship, and the Excel Mathematics Center, where she could work with other students and receive assistance from tutors, she found community support through LGBTQ+ campus resources. MOSAIC and the student alliance Spectrum gave her the opportunity to meet students that were from different backgrounds but also like-minded.

“As a queer woman, walking into an engineering field like this can sometimes be daunting or scary,” Madison said. “One of the things I love about cybersecurity is how inclusive it can be and how it really is a field that can be for everybody. There are people who look like me, there are people very different from me, and the thing that unites us is that we’re all really excited about this field and doing a good job at it.”

“I was able to meet all types of different mentors, all types of different people who showed me that this field can be for everybody, regardless of who you are or where you come from,” she continued.

Madison reminds those currently studying cybersecurity to use campus resources and that simply asking for help can go a long way.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help!” she urged. “Ask classmates, the school centers, your professors.”

Remembering what it was like being a student and the difficulties that came with it, Madison is becoming part of that support system herself by acting as a mentor in cyber events, like the Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS) networking night held last semester.

“People are very willing to help, and many are struggling just as you are. It also helps you stay sane, knowing others are working through it the same as you are,” she laughed.

While Madison gained an invaluable education at UCCS, she has clearly worked hard to extend her skillset beyond the classroom. Now, she’s paying it forward to other students.

About Cybersecurity at UCCS

UCCS is a recognized cybersecurity education leader in the region, awarding hundreds of degrees each year in cybersecurity fields at bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels. UCCS cybersecurity programs train security professionals who work to ensure the nation’s security, support faculty research and strategic cybersecurity partnerships with industry, government, military and academic institutions, including the U.S. Space Force and the National Cybersecurity Center.  Due to generous Colorado state funding of cybersecurity education, UCCS students are eligible for significant financial aid towards security degree scholarships. Learn more about Cybersecurity Programs at UCCS.

About the UCCS College of Engineering and Applied Science

The College of Engineering and Applied Science enrolls more than 1,700 students and offers 23 engineering and computer science degrees, ranging from bachelor to doctoral. The college is a Department of Homeland Security / National Security Agency Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense and works closely with the National Cybersecurity Center and with more than 250 aerospace and defense, information technology, cybersecurity and engineering organizations in the Pikes Peak region. Learn more about the College of Engineering and Applied Science at UCCS.