Shattering the Silicon Ceiling

Scholarship program aims to interest women in cyber careers

Shattering the Silicon Ceiling

Huda Fawzi teaches two of her children about staying safe online. Fawzi is a recent recipient of a Raytheon scholarship to help women pursue cybersecurity careers.

Huda Fawzi awoke to find her 7-year-old son gently guiding her thumb toward her phone’s Touch ID so he could unlock it and play video games. But she didn't scold him; instead, she used it as an opportunity to teach him a lesson on personal privacy and computer security.

She told him, in parental terms, about the value of multi-factor authentication, or the practice of combining passwords with identifiers such as fingerprints to protect sensitive information.

And the elder Fawzi knows better than most about these matters; she's studying cybersecurity at George Washington University and pursuing a career in the field.

“Raising a family and working while attending school is not easy; it’s very challenging,” said Fawzi, a junior at GW. “But I do it. I make it a priority in my life. I have a plan. And I don’t want to waste any time.”

And things just got a little easier for Fawzi as a recipient of Raytheon Women’s Cybersecurity Scholarship Program. Raytheon and the Center for Cyber Safety and Education are awarding $78,000 in scholarships to six women studying cybersecurity. Last year, the program offered two scholarships.

The scholarships are part of Raytheon's efforts to help women seek careers in cybersecurity. Women make up only 11 percent of the workforce in the field, amid a worldwide shortfall of about 1.8 million employees,  according to recent reports by (ISC)², an organization for cybersecurity professionals. The Center for Cyber Safety and Education is that organization's nonprofit charitable trust.

“If we can create a clear path to cyber careers for women, we can help eliminate the serious talent shortage, gain strength through diversity and make our country and the world more secure,” said Dave Wajsgras, president of Raytheon’s Intelligence, Information and Services business.

In addition to the scholarships, Raytheon is also offering all six women internships with the company.

“Raytheon is offering hands-on experience, letting them put into practice what they’ve learned, and making them better cybersecurity professionals,” said Patrick Craven, director of the Center for Cyber Safety and Education. “It will also make them more marketable for future careers. We think it’s the perfect formula.”

Fawzi said the scholarship means much more than just money for tuition and books.

“For me, this is big. It means trust. It means belief. It means encouragement,” said Fawzi, who grew up in Iraq. “When a big company like Raytheon puts their faith in a mom who has only been in this country for seven years with this amount of responsibility, well, it means a lot to me.”

For another recipient, Andrea Koch, the scholarship will relieve some financial stress and allow her to focus on her studies.

“I worked a full-time job, went to school full time and was a full-time mom,” said Koch, an Army veteran and student at Daytona State College in Florida. “This is the hugest break I’ve ever gotten. I am not as stressed and my family isn’t as stressed. I don’t have to overload myself anymore.”

Both women said they see very few women in their classrooms. Fawzi said that of 24 students enrolled in GW's College of Professional Studies cybersecurity program, only three are women.

Koch said her situation is similar. She credits the U.S. Army for steering her toward IT security, saying that before she enlisted, her computer knowledge was limited to booting up and checking email.

“I didn’t think I was going to get this far,” Koch said. “Sometimes I would be the only woman in the class. But you know what, these girls are often smarter than the guys.

“Girls just need to take a chance, learn something different and expose themselves to other areas,” she said. “It’s demanding, but I love it.”

The four other 2017 scholarship recipients are:

  • Lalla Hasnaa Khalil El Ouadghiri, a member of the IT support team at Northern Virginia Community College and Information Systems Technology – Network Engineering Certificate recipient
  • Katya Doersam, a senior at North County High School who received honors at her high school’s Cisco Academy
  • Paula Payson, who will begin studies at the University of Texas at Austin this fall and is finishing high school and taking biotechnology courses at Austin Community College
  • Tien Doan, AP Scholar and winner of the 2016 Distinguished Young Woman of Howard County award and rising student at University of Maryland College Park 
Published On: 05/11/2017
Last Updated: 02/01/2018