Elise Elam, a fall 2019 graduate of the Virginia Tech Master of Information Technology (VT-MIT) program, recently participated in an interview regarding her participation in the aforementioned program. Elam, a mother of three, works as a digital risk advisory and cybersecurity associate at Baker & Hostetler LLP.

Why did you choose to pursue a degree from VT-MIT?

I chose the VT-MIT program because my husband had done a lot of research – for himself – and was already in the program. The work I was doing as an attorney wasn't fulfilling and I couldn't see myself doing it for the rest of my career. I was searching for a field that was both interesting and had growth potential. My husband told me I should pursue a path as a cybersecurity attorney. I thought he was crazy. My B.A. is in psychology and I have no science or IT background. Fortunately, I knew an attorney who had pivoted her career into a cybersecurity insurance practice. After speaking with her, I was convinced this was the right path for me. I chose VT-MIT in order to pivot my career as a lawyer from workers' compensation and other litigation to cybersecurity and privacy. I also selected VT-MIT because it is ranked highly and, of course, Virginia Tech is a great school. Finally, given my busy life, I knew I needed an online program.

What skills and knowledge have you gained or polished?

Before the VT-MIT program, I didn't have any formal knowledge or training related to IT or cybersecurity. Just about everything I learned in the program was new to me. I gained a new appreciation for the complexity of databases as well as a foundation in coding. Even though I didn't plan on using either of these in my future career, both have helped me understand the technical side of cybersecurity. Along those lines, I learned a lot about cybersecurity, especially from Associate Professor of Integrated Security Wade Baker. I use the things he taught me almost every day in my new job. Most days I am on the phone with forensics professionals and IT specialists. Because of my education at Virginia Tech, I can understand and communicate with both attorneys and technical professionals.

How do you think the degree has served you in your career development?

My goal was to become a cybersecurity attorney with a focus on breach incident response. Not only did I accomplish that, but I doubled my salary as well.

The VT-MIT program offers students great flexibility. To what extent has this been important to you in managing your work and life balance? 

My husband and I both work, he is in the VT-MIT program, and we have three kids. The beginning of the spring 2019 semester happened to fall when my sister and I planned to go on a trip to Disney World and Universal Studios. I was able to do my coursework while traveling and still enjoy the trip. At the end of that semester, my not-quite-2-year-old son was in the hospital for several days, and I stayed with him around-the-clock. It wasn't easy, but I was able to work on my laptop to complete my coursework.

Father’s Day weekend, my grandfather, who was 93, became ill and was in the hospital for a week. It was clear that he didn't have much time left and he was terrified of going into a nursing home. Because I was working remotely, I was able to care for my grandfather full-time for five weeks until he passed away.

During finals, my kids were sick. I also had a fever of almost 102 and had a looming federal court filing deadline. I somehow managed to get my briefs filed and my coursework completed on time. As life often goes, there was always some curveball thrown at me, wrecking my "perfect" plans. But the flexibility of the program allowed me to focus on school when I was able to and focus on other things – work and family – when I needed to. It wasn't easy, but there is no way I could have completed an in-person master’s program.

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