By Kanika Samra, External Relations
Iraq veteran, mother, Latina, Tohono O’odham member, and now a cybersecurity expert – Aurora Sardina wears many hats with aplomb. After many years of working in the service sector after an honorable discharge from the military, Sardina, had been looking for a career that would offer job security, stability, and intellectual stimulation when she enrolled at Pima in 2018 to pursue an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree in Cybersecurity. After many years of not utilizing it, she used her post 9/11 GI bill toward her higher education.
Speaking from her home in Tucson on a rare day off – she’s continued working full time while studying at Pima – the excitement for her chosen field is apparent. As someone who’d always been drawn to creative pursuits, the shift to more linear thinking took an effort. But once Sardina saw how much scope there is for lateral thinking and creativity within threat mitigation, event analysis and programming, her resolve to continue within the field strengthened.
Pima’s Center of Excellence in Information Technology/Cybersecurity (IT CoE) offers several Computer Information Systems (CIS) pathways which include AAS degrees and IT support specialist and technician certificates. Students at the Center are encouraged not just to gain hands-on skills but think more broadly about the societal impact of their work mitigating cyber-attacks and fighting cybercrime. A simulation of real-world problems can be experienced at the Arizona Cyber Warfare range that is located on Pima’s East Campus, adjacent to the IT CoE. There students and members of the community are welcome to try their skills – even those who’ve never studied CIS – to achieve a set of predefined goals. It’s akin to learning to swim by jumping in at the deep end. At first everyone is clutching at straws to stay afloat. But once they can make sense of the code, numbers, commands, it’s like learning a new language. Theresa Noon, program manager, IT CoE, also had a go at the range in her early days at the Center. She says IT is everywhere, “in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat.” So, to her and the staff at the Center it is only natural that they educate the community about keeping themselves secure while online.
For Aurora, herself a victim of identity theft, it is a deeply personal pursuit. She has successfully transferred to the University of Arizona (UA), Tucson where she will pursue a bachelor’s degree in cyber operations with an emphasis on defense and forensics. She wants to join the fight to stop child sex trafficking. Eventually her goal is to serve the nation once again by joining the Department of Defense.
“The Center of Excellence is great because there are so many resources there with hands-on learning; something you don’t usually get,’ Aurora says. During the summer, she was one of the first interns hired at the student-run data center at the IT CoE. Students perform a range of tasks from networking, security, virtual machine set up, monitoring and more. Aurora says it was the best way to test everything she’d learned in class. While self-doubt can emerge, she says, “Hey, we won’t know until we try, you know. So that’s what it’s all about.”
For now, Aurora is savoring her achievement of graduating from Pima, and setting an example for her teenaged children. As a first-generation college graduate, she wants them to see their potential and pursue their dreams.