Megan Andersen has a special place in her heart for CybOrg, USC’s premier cybersecurity and forensics organization.
Andersen, B.S. EE ’20, credits the student-run club for helping her become more sure of herself, sharpening her cybersecurity skills and for all the good things that have followed since.
“I had a lot of trepidation starting out in cybersecurity because I had never done coding or anything like that before. I was thinking that maybe I wouldn’t be smart enough to do it,” said Andersen, who served as the organization’s president in 2019 and earlier as vice president of member relations.
“But getting to know the members of CybOrg, seeing them as allies and going to the meetings was really helpful to me in building that confidence.”
That newfound faith in herself, combined with a minor in digital forensics and the opportunity to meet and later network with industry executives at several CybOrg events, led to Andersen landing a job at CrowdStrike, the prestigious cybersecurity firm where she now works as an associate consultant. “CybOrg is really good at getting people jobs,” Andersen added.
Like Andersen, myriad current and past CybOrg participants believe the organization enriches members’ USC experience by offering fellowship, cybersecurity workshops, hacking or so-called “capture the flag” competitions, and access to companies potentially interested in hiring them.
About 150 students belong to CybOrg, many of whom first became aware of the club in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Information Technology Program, or ITP, cybersecurity classes.
“The ties and relationships in our club are really incredible. It’s not like when you graduate you check out and never talk to anybody again,” said Anna Szymanski, a USC Viterbi senior and CybOrg president. “Many [CybOrg] alumni remain involved and know your name and care about what you’re doing. It goes back to the Trojan family.”
The need for cybersecurity professionals has never been greater. Cybersecurity Ventures expects global cybercrime costs to grow by 15 percent per year over the next five years, reaching $10.5 trillion annually by 2025, up from $3 trillion in 2015. To cite but one example of the incessant attacks on vulnerable data, Russia is suspected in the recent cyberattacks on the U.S. Department of Treasury and the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Weekly CybOrg meetings range from presentations by CrowdStrike, Kroll, Microsoft Corp. and other businesses with cybersecurity operations on industry trends and case studies to formalized recruiting events. ITP professors, among others, also deliver lectures on cybersecurity-related topics, such as ethics and evolving strategies for protecting potential computer networks from hostile actors.
In 2019, CybOrg expanded its student offerings with the creation of a mentorship program, pairing 30 club alumni with 60 group members. Everybody involved considered it a success, said Sama Manchanda, the group’s former VP of member relations who helped spearhead the initiative.
“The best part of the mentorship program is that it gives students a chance to network with industry professionals and get a look into what’s happening in the industry and figuring out what career paths they might want to go down,” said Manchanda, who graduated this year with a degree in intelligence and cyber operations and now works at The Crypsis Group, a cybersecurity firm.
“It’s also a great way to build a one-on-one relationships,” she added. “The mentors are really excited to share their wealth of information, while the students win because they get answers to questions they might not feel comfortable asking a professor or TA.”
Jonathan Holtmann, CybOrg’s VP of industry relations, said he has benefitted immensely from his participation in the club. His involvement, he said, has led to two summer internships and a job offer from Kroll. A senior majoring in computer science/business administration, the 22-year-old Holtmann said he plans to remain connected to CybOrg for a long, long time.
“I know when I graduate I definitely really want to see how I can give back to this program that has given me so much,” he said. “I want other students to have the same opportunities I was given because of my membership in CybOrg.”