While she will cross the stage along with 780 other graduates at Southeast Missouri State University’s winter commencement ceremony Dec. 17 and graduate summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in cybersecurity, she holds the distinction of being the only female member and captain of Southeast’s 2016 Cyber Defense Team.
Hallmark has competed as a team member the past three years, but in October 2015, she was voted captain of a team of 10, nine of whom were male.
“I was very proud to be able to represent my team, and I felt as if the hard work I had put into building relationships and increasing my technical knowledge had paid off,” she said.
Hallmark dismisses any notion of gender obstacles, saying she felt no different than any of her other teammates.
“I felt respected by my male peers, and I believe, thanks to many women who have gone before me, a lot of stereotypes have been diminishing,” she said. “I think it says a lot about our program and the quality of people in it, that I have not faced any barriers to being accepted academically just because of my gender.”
Dr. Vijay Anand, director of Southeast’s cybersecurity program, says Hallmark is not the first female student in the program, nor is she the first female to join the Cyber Defense Team. But she was the only female member of the team competing in 2016.
“She was voted by everyone to be the team captain,” Anand said. “I think the guys on the team have always been supportive.”
He calls Hallmark “one of my best students. She’s very smart, obviously, to be captain of the team. She is very motivated. If you give her something to work on, she can get it done. She’s an amazing student.”
The Cyber Defense Team has eight competing and two alternate members. Each team member has job duties – networking, writing reports, administrating Linux Operating Systems or administrating Windows Servers. The team practices up to 10 hours a week beginning in October. Their first challenge in each year’s competition circuit is vying to win the state competition.
“The past three years, we have won the state of Missouri and gone onto the regional competition,” Hallmark said. “At regionals, it is two very intense days of real world penetration testers trying to attack your network and take down your services. We try to protect our network and keep the attackers out.”
Hallmark says the competitions have greatly increased her knowledge of technologies and software used in the real world and have given her a glimpse into what companies do on a daily basis to defend their network.
“Information is the new currency,” she said, so “protecting a company’s information and data is very important. Cybersecurity not only keeps companies safe, but also the customers and clients that trust their personal information to these companies. Credit card numbers, Social Security numbers and everything else that is stored on a company’s server must be secured to protect the individuals whose lives are affected by these personal identifiers.”
Southeast’s Cyber Defense Team took second place at the 2016 Erich J. Spengler Midwest Regional CCDC in April at Moraine Valley Community College in Chicago, Illinois. Southeast was edged out by DePaul University which went on to represent the Midwest and advance to the National CCDC in San Antonio, Texas. Southeast advanced to the Midwest Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition after taking first place in March at the 2016 Midwest Collegiate Cyber Defense Qualification Competition.
Southeast’s “cybersecurity program is strong,” Hallmark said, adding it has given her and her classmates “a firm technical foundation to stand on in the real world. The success we have had in the cyber defense competitions has proven that we are the best school for cybersecurity in the state of Missouri.”
An Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, native, Hallmark said she learned about Southeast’s cybersecurity program after reading about it in a recruitment publication.
“I did a lot of programming in high school, but cybersecurity sounded awesome,” she said. “I love the combination of security paired with a strong technical knowledge of computers. Since society is completely submerged in technology now, we need to protect the information and data of our citizens. Cybersecurity provides the right amount of challenge for a rewarding career.”
Southeast’s cybersecurity program boasts a 100 percent placement rate, and Hallmark is no exception. She has already landed a position and plans to start Jan. 16 as a systems engineer with Forensic IT in St. Louis. Like those who have come before her, Hallmark adds to the ranks of Southeast’s cyber savvy graduates who are in high demand in a technology revolution where corporate hacking is proliferating.
“She will have an amazing future,” Anand said. “Women who take the leap of faith and come into our program” will find opportunities. “All of our women graduates are doing great!”
To other female techies, Hallmark offers this advice – “Never give up hope in pursuing a degree in a male dominated field. Diversity is key to solving any problem, so the amount of diversity we can get in all STEM-related fields will increase our chances of solving many of the outstanding problems” in the world.