Editor’s note: This story is part of a series profiling internship experiences of undergraduate students participating in Penn State Schuylkill Co-Op. For more stories like Perez’s, visit schuylkill.psu.edu/co-op-stories. The series is written by Kacey Harper, a second-year Penn State Schuylkill student majoring in corporate communication.
SCHUYLKILL HAVEN, Pa. – Arrianna Perez has a passion for helping others that inspired her to pursue a degree and career path in cybersecurity. A second-year cybersecurity analytics and operations student at Penn State Schuylkill, Perez’s high school years were punctuated by the COVID-19 pandemic: Throughout the worldwide lockdown and long-term virtual existence, Perez clearly saw the immense need for cybersecurity professionals. The experience solidified Perez’s choice to apply to Penn State as a cybersecurity analytics and operations major, she said.
After college, Perez said she intends to explore two areas of interest in cybersecurity: penetration testing and becoming a security operations center analyst. A penetration tester is someone who ethically hacks and checks organizations for vulnerabilities and then reports findings and solutions back to the organization so they can keep their systems secure. A security operations center analyst is someone who ensures that there are no breaches in an organization by acting against any threats and patching any vulnerabilities.
Perez is making progress on her goals by gaining experience with her internship at the Pottsville Area School District, where her primary project is commissioning new iPads for the district. She decommissions old iPads and removes previous configurations as well as user data, and then unboxes and labels new iPads, which then leads to configuring the iPads with student and teacher information.
A member of Penn State Schuylkill Co-Op, Perez joined the program after hearing its purpose of helping students gain workplace skills while working towards their desired degree. Perez said résumé building was essential to displaying her skills to future employers, which also helped her secure her current internship. She also felt communication was a weakness of hers and that Co-Op classes taught efficient communication methods, boosting her confidence and leading her to become a better communicator.
Proving her passion for learning, Perez has seven certifications planned within the next year to help further her education through self-learning. She said she hopes to pass all her certification exams and demonstrate her ability to become proficient in new areas and show that she’s dedicated to staying current in the field.
Q: How do you navigate being in a mainly male-dominated field?
Perez: More and more females are entering many different fields, and that includes cybersecurity. I personally follow a lot of women on social media who inspire me to continue even if I currently do not see a lot of other females in the classroom or out in the field. I hope that one day I can be a resource or a source of inspiration for other women who are looking to get started in cybersecurity.
Q: Describe a specific project/event/experience that you had which made this internship memorable.
Perez: There are many memorable times that I won’t forget from this internship where the employees, other interns and I laughed, joked and enjoyed each other’s company, so it is very hard to choose just one. But something I will not forget is when I was with the other interns, and we noticed a network cable was not working properly. I mentioned it to the employees, and they asked if I knew how to repair it. I told them I learned how to do it, but I had never physically done it before. They then gave me the tools and trusted me to fix it. Not only did I successfully fix it, but I surprised myself and was honored to have the opportunity.
Q: What has surprised you on the job?
Perez: I was extremely impressed with how quickly the employees took us (the interns) in and made us feel welcome. Whenever they teach us anything new, they always ensure that we fully understand everything, and explain their process in detail.