MITRE Program Inspires the New Generation of Cyber Professionals

October 2021
Joshua Akhimiemona, Cyber Futures Intern
Joshua Akhimeniemona

Joshua Akhimiemona had never heard of MITRE until he was a Howard Univeristy freshman studying computer science. During spring semester, there was buzz in the College of Engineering and Architecture (CEA) about MITRE’s new Cyber Futures Internship Program.

The program partners with historically black and minority-serving colleges and universities to attract top students who express an interest in cybersecurity. The experience included education about cybersecurity work at MITRE and technical skill building. The internship also allowed students to work alongside MITRE teams on projects.

“The objective is to get them excited about pursuing a degree in a STEM-based curriculum that would open opportunities for students to pursue full-time employment at MITRE or at one of our sponsors,” says Nicole Gilmore, MITRE’s director of student programs.

The goal, she adds, is to develop a pipeline of future cyber professionals. Akhimiemona is one of 24 students in the first cohort to complete the program. Here, he talks about his experience.

When you’re in college you get a lot of emails about internships, and I had been applying to a lot of different jobs, but people in the Howard University’s College of Engineering and Architecture seemed really excited about this special MITRE internship.

I sent in my resume. Not long after, I got a phone call from the director of the program telling me that MITRE wanted me to be part of the inaugural Cyber Futures Intern class.

I went into college as a computer engineering major. Growing up with a religious background, I did a lot of work in the church. A lot of it was technical. I was always learning on the fly so I could fix things.

Freshman year I took a computer engineering class and a coding class. The computer engineering class was OK. I got a 98.

My computer science class was more challenging. I had never coded in my life. Learning coding challenged me and elevated my thinking. Since I started learning to code, I’ve used it to build games and design things that people would understand.

I’m more focused on computer science now because it’s less hardware and more software focused.

(Video) Howard University sophomore Joshua Akhimiemona describes his experience as a Cyber Futures intern at MITRE.

Breaking the Code to a Cyber Future

Whether to focus on cybersecurity is still something I’m thinking about. My first exposure to anything cyber-related was on June 14, 2021. That was the first day of our internship.

Since then, I’ve learned as much as I can. I’ve talked with cyber engineers during visits to the MITRE campus in McLean, Virginia. I’ve picked their brains about what they do.

I’m still on the fence about it, trying to build up as much knowledge as I can to figure out whether cybersecurity is a fit for me.

Whatever I choose, the internship has been great because of the connections I’ve made. Coming into the program, we didn’t know each other. And because people were working remotely, we didn’t need to.

But as we got split into teams to work on projects together, we got closer. We’ve helped each other through the program. The Cyber Futures program has also given us a way to expand our network beyond our own school, and that expands our opportunities. We’ve already built a brother and sisterhood—that’s the best way to put it.

A Surprise Executive Encounter

Everybody at MITRE has been very welcoming and helpful. The first time I visited the MITRE campus in McLean, I was trying to find my group, and I couldn’t locate anyone. I was completely lost, and I was about to reach out to my mentor when I saw Leslie Anderson, one of the organizers of the program.

She was walking toward me with a man, and I thought I’d wait until she was closer and introduce myself. I hoped she’d tell me where I was supposed to be. She said, “Yeah, you can walk with us! By the way, this is Jason Providakes. He’s our CEO.”

I rode the elevator with him and had my picture taken with him so I could show my mother that within 10 minutes of coming to MITRE, I’d met the CEO! Jason, Leslie, my mentor Heba Mahmoud, and everyone at MITRE have been really helpful and very generous about sharing their knowledge. It’s been a great experience!

As told to Molly Manchenton

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