The educational path for Austin Moody, a cum laude graduate of Ferris State University’s Information Security and Intelligence program, took him on a journey across Lower Michigan. He landed in Big Rapids, ready to serve an essential operation of the federal government.
“I attended a high school in the Thumb, where my interest in technology may not have been seen as high a priority for my district as its support of athletics and agriculture,” Moody said. “Through persistence, we started a robotics club my senior year. I am thankful for the technology director at my high school, the technology instructor with the Tuscola Intermediate School District. My father, a network engineer, offered me advice and encouraged me. Two of my key mentors were Ferris graduates. While it was not a ‘hard sell’ they made, their guidance was most likely an influence in my decision to come to Ferris.”
Michigan’s Tuition Incentive Program was another catalyst for action, which helped bring Austin to Big Rapids.
“I did not know what to expect, as I am a first-generation student, but it excited me to start a new chapter in my life,” Moody said. “In my senior year, it seemed that I would be starting higher education as a community college student, but the TIP program gave me the financial freedom to broaden my opportunities.”
His interest in technology took a while to define and refine the proper course of study to match his intentions.
“I started in Computer Information Technology, but I was keeping my eyes open,” Moody said. “I was unaware that Ferris had a curriculum focused on keeping technology secure from attacks, that I could study and pursue for a career. It was the fall of my third year on campus when I met with an ISI advisor, and since I was a TIP student, choosing to change my degree was not as simple as just filing the necessary paperwork. I knew I would have to spend another year in college, but my program advisor said that amount of time is a small consideration compared to the length of a career in the industry.
Validation of his choice came quickly.
“I knew ISI was right for me after the introductory session of my first class,” Moody said.
His advance to a Master of Science in ISI has not been without its struggles, but he saw those situations as personal growth opportunities.
“In my fourth year on campus, I found myself in difficult straits, financially,” Moody said. “My work in the ISI program was going well, but to stay on track, I had to take four years of core courses in two, which would not be possible in a proper pace of schedule. At one point, I had what amounted to a 26-credit load. Passion fueled my survival at that time. I gave it my all to succeed and show myself, as a first-generation college student, worthy of investment and opportunity.”
Beyond academics, Moody found ways to get involved and to bring balance to his college experience.
“Joining Housing and Residence Life as a resident advisor was a definite boost when I needed it the most,” he said. “I am so glad that I put my health above all else, with weight lifting as my ‘go-to’ activity to relieve stress. Finally, having focused on time management proved extremely important in developing priorities to meet so many commitments. I am grateful to have learned these things at Ferris.”
That balance has helped his academic focus.
Moody said that the ISI faculty has been incredibly supportive, encouraging him to take on leadership responsibilities related to the program and its students.
“I have had terms as the secretary and vice president of the Information Security and Intelligence Alliance chapter, here,” Moody said. “As secretary, I was a key contributor in establishing the ISIA Discord. This platform became even more important as the COVID-19 pandemic changed the course of the Spring 2020 semester. Students in cybersecurity can use this to collaborate on coursework or other projects, share resources, or simply network in this fashion. I am proud that the Discord has more than 150 members.”
This growth has been gratifying.
“I feel great about the success of these efforts, but to see them grow and develop as I enter my career, I have given this over to the Women in Cybersecurity chapter and the ISIA registered student organization,” he added.
Moody also said the Information Security and Intelligence seek and encourage a well-rounded student experience.
“I believe the relationships between students and faculty in ISI are some of the strongest on campus,” he said. “I attribute much of my success to the collaborative efforts with other students and the support we receive from the faculty. Our professors go above and beyond with providing opportunities for success.”
Moody’s support of all things ISI includes volunteering in outreach opportunities the program arranges for high school students.
“Being in a support role during these cybersecurity competitions was very rewarding,” he said. “Just being able to explain the opportunities that are possible by taking our program and helping young students.”
Beyond his work to encourage visitors and prospects to consider the ISI program, Moody did his best to demonstrate its excellence during his time on campus as a competitor in the National Cyber League, a cybersecurity competition.
“I especially enjoyed the team aspect of NCL,” Moody said. “The team game is a unique experience and a great opportunity for students to bond and compete cooperatively. We scored in the 99th percentile consistently, over three seasons.”
In 2019, Austin was one of three Ferris students to earn scholarships, providing them the opportunity to gain Global Information Assurance Certifications from the SANS Institute because of their success in the Cyber FastTrack competition.
“That opened many doors for me,” Moody said. “I do feel that my proudest accomplishments are for the things that I won no awards for. I believe that if you contribute positively to the community, your rewards come back ten-fold. I am more about making a positive contribution than to concern myself with profits.”
Another opportunity to distinguish himself came about in 2020, as Moody was one of three students to receive a scholarship from the United States Department of Defense, as part of an award that amassed $385,000 to build up the ISI curriculum to the point of their offering Artificial Intelligence instruction, as of the Spring 2021 semester. Moody also completed a summer of employment with the DoD, with his career to begin service to that federal department after graduation.
“My entry into the workforce is not like what many of my student peers have found,” Austin said. “Theirs may be a quick advance from organization to organization, but I expect a path that is somewhat more rigid and steadily paced. I have networked with others who are looking at the same career start. Patience is an apparent virtue to succeed in public-sector cybersecurity.”
The future looks bright to Moody’s eyes.
“I am heading into a substantial change in scenery since I join department operations in Tampa, Florida,” he added. “I cannot speak about my DoD responsibilities, as my position is classified Top Secret. I am hoping, in the long term, to work in the aerospace industry. Space exploration is something that has held my interest since childhood, so I would love to support that mission in any way that I can.”
Moody has offered his talents to the ISI program beyond his academic and competitive excellence.
“As a part of the new developments within ISI, another student and I were tasked with building a lab environment located in Room 102 of the Business Building,” Austin said. “This room contains an IoT network, where devices are interconnected and communicate without human involvement. There are also some vulnerable devices for instructional use and a podcast studio.
”The dynamic nature of the ISI curriculum kept me on my toes. This year alone saw the introduction of new machine learning and satellite security courses,” he added.” I may not be around to see the result of the ongoing changes, but I cannot help but find them exciting. I know that I will not benefit directly from my efforts, but I am happy to help the next generation of ISI students. I hope to come back and visit the new departmental headquarters once the Center for Virtual Learning construction is complete.”
As Moody looks to resume his professional pursuits, he considers his time on campus with pride and reflection, which he hopes can benefit others.
“It was not until I got to Ferris that I felt at home,” Moody said. “I hope to give back to the university and the ISI program down the road. I would tell others who may reach a similar crossroads in their learning that they should not force themselves into a career path they have no passion for. It is never too late to change course because if you love what you are doing, time flies.”