AEM Alumna Reflects on her Career

Laura Lee, a University of Minnesota AEM Alumna, and now Executive Vice President of Rapid Prototyping at Circadence and award-winning cyber professional, traces the start of her successful career to her “Introduction to Aerospace Engineering” class at the University of Minnesota.

“I remember that we had to do a paper as the final project in that class and it was a lot of work. As I assembled the paper into its cover, I wrote “The End” in pencil on the inside back cover. I didn’t expect anyone to see it – I was just glad that I finished this long (and at the time, challenging) review of a topic in Aerospace. When I got my paper back, the professor gave me an “A”, wrote great comments, and then crossed out “the end” and wrote “The Beginning”. That was 1984 and it stuck with me.”

Her time at the University of Minnesota truly was the beginning as her career brought her to the Pentagon in D.C., to a remote military training camp in West Virginia, around the world supporting troops, and even in front of cameras on live television.

“The first part of my career was in Washington, DC, working at the Pentagon every day to help build the capabilities for Missile Defense (protecting our nation and allies against Ballistic Missile attacks). It was a lot of all-night sessions and very senior briefings both in the US and internationally. I was constantly challenged, not only technically, but also to be able to communicate at all levels of government. I think that my briefing to the State Department and members of the Russian Duma--their legislative body--was a moment that stands out. Perhaps it is the sheer terror of that kind of public speaking, or that my briefing charts were written in Russian or that it was the culmination of my work in Missile Defense that makes it memorable,” Lee said.

The most memorable part of her career was leading a six-week intensive cyber defense course for the US Army and Navy teams.

“We were sequestered in a remote area of West Virginia and worked non-stop for six weeks, implementing and testing the approach I had developed. Watching the teams grow technically was amazing and I actually cried at the final ceremony when we recognized the distinguished graduates and they presented me with a special gift. The US Cyber Mission Forces later adopted my cyber defense training strategy as their standard.”

Lee decided to relocate to San Diego in 2001 to start a new phase of her career and to raise her three children.

“Cybersecurity is something that my company specialized in since the beginning of the Internet and it is an amazing field to be involved in. Since we had now developed and deployed a Missile Defense system, my initial foray into cyber was about protecting that. As my career in cyber, continued to evolve in the early 2000's, I focused more on cyber defense in general for the military.”

While working at Circadence, a market leader in next-generation cybersecurity readiness, Lee has been apart of many projects, one of the most important being Project Ares. Project Ares is a cybersecurity learning platform available to enterprises, government teams, and academic institutions where people can learn about critical security challenges.

Lee also finds herself volunteering to talk at schools to inspire younger generations to enter the cybersecurity field. “My favorite activity is talking to Middle School STEM classes or at “Girl’s and Boy’s Club” afterschool program. To them, I’m this really old person who explains the internet and gets them excited (they were born the same year as the iPhone so exciting them can be a challenge). We walk through a cyber-attack kill chain, play games that explain Hexa-decimal/Binary conversion and how the Internet protocols work. I hope that I inspire at least one student to pursue a career in cybersecurity every time – who knows, maybe I do.”

Lee earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics from the University of Minnesota in 1984, a Master’s in Aerospace Engineering from Notre Dame in 1986, and a Juris Doctorate from George Mason School of Law in 1995.