MSST Student Transgresses Cultural, Physical and Virtual Borders

Cyber security is defined as the practice of defending electronic devices from breaches and attacks. It's an area that has no borders, connecting (and exposing) machines and systems, and people, communities and nations alike.

Alida Kuete, a student in the M.S. in Security Technologies class of 2020, has also transgressed borders. A native of Mbouda, a small village in the west region of Cameroon, she spoke with us about how she pushed against expectations and norms in order to pursue her dreams of becoming a cybersecurity leader.

Tell us a bit about yourself:
I come from a very humble beginning, the sixth of seven children. Neither one of my parents had any formal education or even learned how to read or write their very own name. None of this is unusual in the small village where we grew up, as most families are only able to send their children to school for a few grades, after which they usually end up helping out on the family land or in their parents’ trade. Looking back, it’s a miracle that my family could help me as much as they did and that I was able to acquire funding to attend and complete college there. My best friend at the time, now my husband, was also from the same village and had even fewer opportunities than I did. But he went on to earn a scholarship to study at Iowa State University and came back for me after completing his undergraduate degree. And here I am earning a second master’s and on my way to becoming a US citizen. Our story is one against all the odds, so it’s really remarkable how far we’ve come.

What was your undergrad degree and how have you been using it?
I earned an undergraduate degree in economics, with a focus on financial institutions. The first master’s degree I went on to pursue was in finance, and I landed a job trading securities, stocks and derivatives amongst other financial instruments in Cameroon before relocating to the United States.

What do you do for work and what does your company do?
I am the CEO and chairman at UMNBOOKS, LLC, an online platform that makes it possible for college students to buy textbooks and course materials economically, and also makes it possible for them to sell their used books at market price.

So you're an entrepreneur. Tell me about how you got your idea. With what do you hope the MSST program will help you?
I got my inspiration after a lot of personal frustration. In the US, I found myself spending a lot of money on textbooks that I wasn’t later able to sell back, unlike in my home country of Cameroon. From grade school to graduate school, I had only purchased or traded textbooks at my schools’ bookstore. This was quite the culture (and sticker!) shock when I came to the US, where the required materials were very expensive and which re-sold for a fraction of the original cost even in mint condition. Like many students, I felt ripped off. Shortly after, I began researching a concept that not only helps students pay less for their textbooks, but one that helps them sell back to another student that needs them. As soon as my project launched in early January 2017, it became clear to me that the market opportunity was by far bigger than anticipated. I’d be dealing with tens of millions of students’ sensitive information and, as the founder, chairman and CEO of the firm, I want to have the skills, knowledge and mindset that it requires to succeed.

What led you to TLI? How did you discover us, why was this important to you?
I actually considered a few different schools and a few different programs, but I decided on TLI because of a statement on its website that resonated with me – that the M.S. in Security Technologies and its cyber minor were designed to empower technology and business professionals to prevent, protect and respond to cybersecurity demands. As a business leader, I felt it was my responsibility to further my technology and cybersecurity knowledge.

Why did you choose your program?
When I hired a cybersecurity consultant to perform vulnerability tests and security assessments for my startup company, I wanted to fully comprehend their language and the gravity of their findings. Also, my interest in cybersecurity had grown so much that I considered a career in the field.

What are you getting out of the program? Has it helped advance your skills & career so far? What do you anticipate will be the result by the time you graduate? 
Each course has really been an opportunity for me to acquire and practice teamwork, project management and communication/presentation skills in the context of security and leadership. By the time I graduate, I’m confident I’ll be positioned for a cybersecurity leadership role, and that I can confidently provide high-class security for my customers’ personal information.

Are you inspired by classmates or professors? How so?
I owe my success to all the smart people that I have met at various points of my educational, professional and personal life. At TLI, the professors are technology experts with extensive professional experience in the industry; and this is true for even some of my peers, who have great leadership qualities. I learn from both the faculty and my classmates, so MSST has really been an opportunity to network with talented and inspiring people. If you have a thirst for knowledge, there’s always someone able to help you out—and this is something I’m taking advantage of while in the program.

What about MSST has surprised you?
I was initially intrigued by the cybersecurity aspect of MSST, but I also recognized the intersectionality of other sectors that have to do with protecting our world, and those interested me as well. Our first course, ”Critical Infrastructure Protection”, opened my eyes to the many things we all take for granted, such as electricity, without stopping to think about how communities are kept secure and safe without us even noticing the massive efforts required to keep things running smoothly.

If applicable, can you talk about your capstone topic and experience?
While it is still a little too early in the program to talk about my capstone topic or experience, I embarked on the program with my mind already set on writing about how to secure cyber space.

What are some of your short-term and long-term goals?
First, I want to acquire the knowledge and technical skills that are needed in order to assume a leadership role in cybersecurity. Long-term, I would like to start a security consulting firm, educating individuals on how to protect their computers, networks and information systems from potential attacks. Beyond that, I am interested in joining the teams of security professionals out there that make a living consulting with companies all over the world and making it a safer place for future generations.

Where do you think your industry is headed? What skills do you think will be important and how has your program helped?
I’m truly in awe by how much technology has fostered innovation, invention and change. We enjoy many perks, such as when I video-chat with my mom halfway across the world, stream videos on my phone, or order pizza or an Uber or Lyft while waiting for my luggage at the airport. What many people don’t realize, however, is that all these actions open them up to a great deal of vulnerability online. The training I’m getting in MSST will help me with my personal security but also in regards to my business with risk management in order to make informed decisions to mitigate compromising assets.

Would you recommend this program to others? To what kind of professionals and why?
I would strongly recommend this program to all technology, security or business professionals already in the field and to anyone with the right mindset for career advancement.

What message do you want to send to potential students and the next generation of leaders (importance of education, the future of the industry, personal experience, etc.)?
To potential students and the next generation of leaders, I challenge you to set yourself up to a strong start. Begin by attending an information session. Connect with as many faculty members, current students and alumni as you can and ask them what they like about the program and whether there is anything that they wish they had done differently. Finally, if you’re motivated by the idea of being part of the teams that help stop cyber wars or chaos to critical infrastructures and if this would inspire pride in you, then take the time to explore the MSST program.

 To learn more about the M.S. in Security Technologies (MSST)request information now or sign up to attend an upcoming information session, where you'll get a chance to meet the program director and find out how MSST can help your career.