Patricia Dybalski, Florida International University
Patricia Dybalski, a senior at Florida International University (FIU), isn’t your typical student intern. A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, she applies the medical IT knowledge acquired during nine years of active duty to her IT and cybersecurity studies. Dybalski serves in the Air Force Reserves and will finish her degree in 2023. She spent the summer of 2022 as one of 51 Cyber Futures interns at MITRE. She talks about her experience with the program.
I was born and raised in the Philippines, then moved to California as a teen. I went to college for a year, but it wasn’t for me. I didn’t know what I wanted to study and didn’t have the luxury of wasting time and money on college tuition, so I joined the Air Force.
I figured I’d spend my time there and get a better idea of what I wanted to do. Luckily, they put me in a tech job. Not only did I learn something I loved, but it also gave me the chance to travel. I was stationed in Italy and Korea and in the Middle East for a short time. Being stationed in those places gave me the opportunity to travel easily, especially in Europe.
I was at a career fair at FIU last winter and heard about MITRE and the Cyber Futures program. MITRE’s mission, “solving problems for a safer world," is what attracted me. One of the things I like about cybersecurity is how the innovation helps to solve problems and makes things work more efficiently.
The program started with three weeks of training, then we got our assignments. I really liked that our instructors were people working in the field. At FIU, our professors, not surprisingly, take a more academic approach to cybersecurity.
It was rewarding to be an intern at a company whose effort has direct benefit to society.
Researching International Cyber Approaches to Find Solutions That Work
My research here related to cybersecurity and international governance frameworks. I studied and compared international agencies to identify differences and common approaches, then I determined if these individual frameworks were successful.
The goal was to create an international governance framework that successfully identifies and prosecutes cybersecurity criminals. But building this framework was difficult because of the differences in each country’s regulations—whether they choose cyberspace environments that are open and free or restricted and controlled.
It was rewarding to be an intern at a company whose effort has direct benefit to society. I want my work to have a purpose, and I feel like I really fit in at MITRE.
My medical IT background has really helped during this experience, because even though cybersecurity is a different field, we speak a similar language. The same is true with my military experience. MITRE works closely with the military, so I can relate.
I also benefit from having previous experience in the workplace. I’ve worked in industry and have managerial experience. I’m involved with Women in Cybersecurity.
All this surprises some of my fellow interns. I’m surrounded by younger people, and a lot of them don’t know my age. So, when they find out I’m 30, I tell them, “OK, calm down! It’s not that old!”