Cyber Engineer, Former MP, Now Defends Space from Cyberattacks

November 2020
Lara Suarez
MITRE employee Lara Suarez

Lara Suarez, a cyber operations engineer in MITRE’s Colorado Springs site, joined four years ago with an eye toward securing space. She stays because of the important work, collaborative environment, and the culture that enables her to feel supported and offer support to others.

I went into the Army determined to work in a law enforcement military occupational specialty. I got selected into the Military Police Corps, and I thought, “This is it! This is what I want to be doing!”

When I went into the reserves and asked a recruiter about jobs beyond the Military Police branch, he introduced me to the Army’s space organization and associated opportunities. Until then, I had no idea the Army had space positions. The recruiter set up a meeting for me with the highest-ranking reserve officer in the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command. We had a great discussion that opened my eyes to a fascinating world. I took a chance, and he took a chance on me as well, and I loved it.

After the reserves, I worked to support the Air Force Space Command while at a commercial contractor for the government. I quickly recognized the connection between cyber and space. There weren’t many people with that cross-section of expertise, and I bolstered my credentials by first getting a graduate certification in cyber technology, and then a master's degree in cybersecurity.

In that job I was surrounded by other contractors and individuals from federal R&D centers, including people from MITRE. A friend who had switched from a government position to MITRE referred me for a position here. I knew about the work MITRE does, but when I learned about the culture, I knew this was the place for me.

Fulfillment and Support on and off the Job

One thing I love about MITRE is having the flexibility not just to support one sponsor [of a federal R&D center] fully, but to support multiple sponsors, especially those with intersecting challenges. My colleagues are fantastic about cross-mission collaboration and information sharing—sharing what MITRE has done in the past and what they are currently supporting. This creates a mutually beneficial collaboration environment.

I feel very proud of all the work I’ve been doing supporting national security initiatives with the United States Space Force and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. I can work many aspects of cyber operations to include cyber intelligence, cyber kill chain analysis, non-kinetic effects, and active cyber defense. My efforts on behalf of sponsors enhance situational awareness, expand defensive strategies, and increase capabilities addressing national security concerns. 

The idea of solving problems for a safer world [MITRE’s mission] really appeals to me. We’re applying that approach to the Great Power Competition, a whole-of-government approach to defending the economic, political, military, and information realm.

Time for Family and Giving Back

I truly appreciate the full range of professional opportunities and benefits MITRE offers. Working here allows me to pursue my professional and personal passions.  A work-life balance is easily attainable at MITRE. I have three kids— one in college, one in elementary school, and one in daycare. My wife is a government employee. She and I are both fortunate to have the flexibility to do our jobs and raise our family, especially, in today’s COVID environment.

MITRE provides a benefit of civic time, which we can use to give back to the community. I have used civic time to support organizations like The DoD Warrior Games.

MITRE also created and supports initiatives like the Early High School Internship Program to bolster interest in science, technology, engineering, and math among early high school students. I'm a contributor to the Colorado program, identifying cyber efforts to pursue for each summer’s program. It’s great to be a part of a MITRE corporate initiative to expand high school student’s interests across STEM fields and empower students to observe the MITRE promise to discover, create, and lead.

MITRE’s commitment to social justice really speaks to me. I’m a second-generation Cuban American. My father set an example by working hard and building his own company. The life he built for us enabled my two sisters and I to explore educational, athletic, and work opportunities. I’m the first woman in my family to join the military and the first to become a commissioned officer. That experience helped me obtain undergraduate and graduate degrees and transition into a STEM job, which I never thought was possible. It’s important that I pay that forward.

Our employee resource councils fuel innovation. I'm the Multicultural Employee Resource Group lead for Colorado and a member of other councils participating in the chance to make real social changes, to build unity in our MITRE community and beyond.

as told to Molly Manchenton

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