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Trish Thai Hien Cunningham, MSIT in Cybersecurity, Class of 2019

Trish Thai Hien Cunningham’s master’s degree has “already made a difference” in her life.

“A degree, and experience, demonstrate development as a well-rounded candidate. I was able to receive a promotion based on my work at Florida Tech.”

Her MSIT in Cybersecurity is just a part of her continuous quest for knowledge in the industry. The mother and soccer coach believes it’s essential to maintain up-to-date knowledge to stay competitive as a technology professional.

“I plan on pursuing additional certifications to keep my industry knowledge updated. Plus, I’ve started to become more active in the cybersecurity community, and the degree has already helped me communicate better with colleagues at cyber conferences.”

We spoke with Cunningham about her professional background, experience in the online classroom, and balancing a family with being a student.

Q. Tell us about your background.

I’ve always been curious about how things work, so it was natural for me to love learning about psychology and history when I was first started college. Later, I found that technology was something that sparked a passion because it seemed like you could make what used to be impossible, possible.

My career so far has been focused on learning software systems and being able to fix complex bugs which helps to have knowledge of code, logic, and, yes, even psychology (user interaction) and history (past release/code issues, government regulations, etc.). While it’s been fun to fix applications and code, I wanted to add more meaning to my career and what better way to do that than to add an investigative element with cybersecurity?

Professionally, I go by Thai, but my friends and family call me Trish – as long as you’re talking to me, I respond to either. I’m a mom of two girls and one boy. Along with my husband, Greg, we enjoy actively participating in their daily lives and have coached many soccer teams thanks to them. So, not only have I been a cheering soccer parent on the sidelines, but also a head coach for my girls, and a member on the Board of Directors for their soccer association.

Q. What were the most important factors in your decision to choose Florida Tech?

When I was researching graduate degree programs in cybersecurity just a few years ago, there weren’t many options. I was happy to find that Florida Tech offered multiple choices that focused on cybersecurity. Coupled with Florida Tech’s prestigious reputation and online offerings, it was an easy decision.

Q. What surprised you most about taking an online program?

I was pleasantly surprised that, with some planning, it was easier than my previous online class experiences. I took online classes as an undergraduate but had to do most of the organization and planning by adding class milestones to my personal calendar. At Florida Tech, the online system has built-in organization and is structured so that I was aware of each due date in multiple areas, not just the syllabus, well ahead of time; this helped me tremendously with planning. As a result, I graduated with a 4.0 GPA.

Another thing I learned: being in an online program doesn’t mean that it was any less challenging or less of an experience. You can absolutely check out books from the Florida Tech library using the Interlibrary loan system (just not current required textbooks, nice try!). Also, just because you’re not on campus doesn’t mean that you won’t be recognized for your efforts – I was invited to join the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society after keeping up my grades the first year.

Q. What was your favorite class and why?

Organizational Behavior was my first and favorite class because Dr. Seifert helped start me off right. The course was fun and engaging, and Dr. Seifert encouraged me to continue being candid during the discussions, which I thought was awesome. She let me showcase my quirky sense of humor and writing style. It’s okay to stick with the topic, but being able to provide my own experiences and ask other classmates about theirs regarding the topic of the week really made that class, and future classes, much more enjoyable and less like a book report.

Q. What was your most valuable takeaway from the program?

Graduate studies may seem daunting at first, but there was so much support from the professors and the student services representatives. My student services representative, Cindy Dilley, helped me stay on target throughout my time at Florida Tech. Her kindness and persistence were very much appreciated, especially during the personally challenging times.

Q. What advice would you give other students who are considering enrolling in the program?

I know what you’re thinking because I had the same doubts.

Do I have time for schoolwork? Yes, you do. For the online courses, it’s one class per eight weeks on a rolling schedule. I studied and did classwork after the kids were in bed, which allowed me to really focus with no distractions.

What about all the writing? It’s more fun than you remember! If the program you’re in is your passion, you’ll have plenty to say and more.

What about the exams, do they still use bubble sheets? Welcome to the 21st century – it’s all online!

The bottom line is, do this for you. I did this purely for me, and that’s what helped me see it to completion because only I was accountable for my successes or failures. No excuses. What you get in the end is not just a diploma and a title you can add to your signature, but a feeling of accomplishment and one more item to cross off your bucket list!

Q. Who has been your support system?

My husband, daughters and son. They provided me with the platform to successfully complete this program. The added bonus was that they were my audience when I prepared the final drafts of my essays.

To my husband, thank you for the valuable input and the time/space to complete my work.

To my girls, thank you for trying to listen even when you didn’t fully understand the topic (my girls were in elementary school at the time).

To my son, thank you for your infectious smile that provided the light during the much-needed breaks from work and school.

I love you all so much and am blessed to have you here with and for me.

Q. What was the most challenging part of your student journey?

I know it’s probably obvious, but as a graduate student, life still goes on while you’re in school. How does one choose the most challenging event? The joys of our blended family, flooding in our home, crazy hurricanes that destroyed family homes, a few deaths in the family, etc. Needless to say, it’s easy to get distraught and distracted. The best challenge, however, was the birth of my son, for whom I took some time off from school to enjoy his newborn phase.

Q. Who or what inspires you to succeed?

My love of learning and my family, of course! The love of learning and being a persistent problem-solver helps me constantly learn new things and, in turn, allows me to find balance whether life is quiet or chaotic. And then there is my family, who gives meaning to all this madness and makes me want to achieve more.

Q. What is one fun fact about you?

I have a motorcycle license and have been able to take the carburetor apart to clean a gummed-up system on a used bike I had just purchased. The best part – it worked like new after the cleaning.

Have you completed one of Florida Tech’s online programs? We would love to share your success story in our Student Spotlight series. Contact us at studentspotlight@bisk.com for additional details.

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