Meet 27-year old Christine Izuakor, who is a Senior Security Analyst at United Airlines and a Ph.D holder in Security Engineering. In role in United Airline, she is responsible for managing numerous security functions from network vulnerability management to negotiating legal aspects of data security for contracts across the enterprise.
What schools did you attend?
I earned a Ph.D. in Security Engineering from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, becoming the youngest and first African American woman to do so at the university. My research focused on critical infrastructure security and has been published in several international journals, including the International Journal of Critical Infrastructure Protection. My original contributions to the security industry have also been presented in international conferences from Washington, DC to Rome, Italy. I also completed a master’s degree in Information Systems Security from University of Houston in 2012 and I am also a Certified Information Systems Security Professional.
What is your work history?
I started out as a 16-year-old cashier at Six Flags Astroworld in 2005. In 2007, I became a market researcher at Creative Consumer Research. From 2007-2010, I worked in retail, first as a cashier at Citi Trends Clothing and then Head Cashier at Home Depot. My last job before entering into my professional career was as a party coordinator at WonderWild in 2010. That year, I left Wonder Wild to start my IT security internship at Continental Airlines, where I remained for one year. I was eventually offered a full-time job with the merged and new United Airlines as an IT Audit Analyst on the Governance, Risk, and Compliance team. In 2016, I was promoted to my current role as a Senior IT Security Analyst.
I am also active in the diversity and inclusion community. I am a co-founder and the Vice President of GenTrend, United Airlines’ Millennial business resource group and serve as the Head Editor of the Illinois Diversity Council Editorial Board. This is in addition to being a member of the National Diversity Council Newsletter Committee, and volunteer as a cyber-security mentor with Year Up.
Tell us about your work with Gen Trend?
Gen Trend is a business resource group within United Airlines. The organisation’s mission is to attract, engage, and retain the next generation of aviation employees and customers. The work started with a core research team that I led back in 2012 to better understand the evolution of the work force and trends across generations, with specific attention to Millennials. It has since evolved, with the significant contributions of the other co-founders, United leaders, and the board, into the great organisation it is today. I currently serve as the vice president of the organisation. In this role, I, in collaboration with the President, effectively led a collaborative team effort to translate ideas and priorities from numerous stakeholders into a 2017 strategy that aligned with the values and mission of the business resource group and company. Alongside seven phenomenal leaders that make up our board, we are currently executing on that strategy and can’t wait to see how we will influence the future of the company.
Who are your role models and how have they inspired your career?
I draw inspiration from different people and platforms, so I don’t really have specific role models. I look for people who have made it to where I am trying to go, study their journeys, and use their lessons to create my own path. I also follow different inspirational pages and powerful multi-faceted women profiles on Instagram for inspiration. A few people I draw quite a bit of inspiration from include Michelle Obama, Sharon Grant, my family, Onika Maraj, and a young woman I recently met through Year Up, Symone Latham-Dior.
What challenges did you encounter while studying for a PhD?
I think two of the biggest challenges for me were:Some experienced professors in academia said that I was too early in my career to pursue a PhD, but I used this doubt as motivation and reminded myself that there were way more people encouraging and supporting me than discouraging. I also had to remind myself that as human beings we tend to project our experiences and limitations on others. Instead of saying, “When I was your age, I don’t think I could have done this,” they said, “You are too young. You can’t do it.”I had to teach myself to distinguish the two (genuine feedback vs. projection). Continuing to push on after each failure is a challenge, but I have learned over time to continue building resilience. For example, I applied for three different PhD programmes. I was denied from the first one and accepted at the second two. If I had given up, I wouldn’t be here. I submitted papers for publications and conferences that were denied. I took the feedback, worked hard to improve the work, and tried again many times until I succeeded. This is prevalent throughout my entire journey. You get knocked down a lot, and you have to learn to bounce back quickly.
What are the key skills and qualities one must possess to earn a PhD?
Resilience, passion for your topic, true dedication to finishing your programme, and great time management skills are critical to success. Throughout the journey, there will be sacrifices, possibly tears and breaking points that test your dedication to continuing with research, and times when you begin to question your own intelligence. But, there will also be amazing discoveries, joyous moments, and a sense of relief and accomplishment when you officially get greeted as Dr. for the first time. It feels awesome!
What is your ultimate career goal?
Most people look at me like I am a crazy dreamer when I talk about my goals in general. Right now, a few of my main career goals are to become a Chief Information Security Officer and a business owner (I am also an entrepreneur at heart).
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
In five years, like any other year, I see myself continuously dedicated to reaching my full potential while inspiring others to reach theirs as well along the way. One of my biggest goals is to inspire as many people as I can during my lifetime. The career goals, life goals, etc. evolve over time and I am sure if today, I painted a picture of who I “want to be” in five years, it will look nothing like where I really end up. God always has a great way of surprising me. I trust in his plans for me, and know that wherever I am in five years, it will be epic!
What are your hobbies? What else interests you?
I love to travel. I have a goal to visit 30 countries before I turn 30. So far, I have been to 22 countries. From exploring the rich Asian cultures of Japan and China, to the pure and scenic country sides of Switzerland and Ireland, and back to the relaxing beaches of Mexico and Dominican Republic, I learn so much about myself and this world through travel. I was actually 35,000 ft in the air on a flight to Hong Kong when I typed this response. A few future places on my list include Iceland, Australia, Brazil, Greece, and South Africa.
This Interview was conducted by the Punch newspaper and it first appeared on its online platform.