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Featured School Series; Showcasing NSA's Academic Partnerships

National Security Agency (NSA) and
North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University (N.C. A&T)

Working together for more than 20 years to create diversity in the workplace and in STEM fields.

  • N.C. A&T is a National Security Agency/ Department of Homeland Security Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense.

  • NSA hires more N.C. A&T grads than any other agency in the intelligence community

  • Top Majors

    • Civil Engineering
    • Computer Engineering
    • Computer Science
    • Electrical Engineering
    • Industrial Engineering
    • Information Technology
    • Management

    Degree Types

    • Bachelors (67%)
    • Masters (33%)
  • N.C. A&T is one of 16 hiring & recruitment campus ambassador program (CAP) schools across the country.

  • 40% of N.C. A&T graduates at NSA receive special STEM pay.

  • Nearly 70 N.C. A&T graduates are employed by NSA.

  • As the largest public Historically black college & university (HBCU), N.C. A&T contributes to the diversity of NSA's Workforce.

  • N.C. A&T is a Center of Academic Excellence

    The National Centers of Academic Excellence (CAE) promote higher education and research in the critical area of cyber defense. CAE Schools produce professionals in the field with the expertise to reduce vulnerability in our national information infrastructure. N.C. A&T is designated in cyber defense going back eight years. This program is jointly sponsored by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

  • N.C. A&T is in the Campus Ambassador Program

    N.C. A&T is one of 16 colleges and universities across the country in NSA's Campus Ambassador Program (CAP), which serves to build and strengthen relationships with select universities. The program helps showcase career opportunities at NSA and attract students to the workforce through a combination of creative recruitment, informational, and branding events. Each CAP relationship contributes directly to the Agency's recruitment and diversity goals.

  • NSA Sponsors GenCyber Camps at N.C. A&Ta

    N.C. A&T hosted two GenCyber Camps in 2018 sponsored by NSA and the National Science Foundation. The GenCyber program provides free summer cybersecurity experiences for students and teachers at the K-12 levels and aims to increase interest in cybersecurity careers and diversity in the Nation's cybersecurity workforce. The program also helps all students understand correct and safe on-line behavior, and improves teaching methods for delivery of cybersecurity content in K-12 curricula.

  • N.C. A&T Students Participate in NSA Summer Programs

    Students from N.C. A&T have participated in several NSA student programs in the past five years including the Cooperative Education Program (Co-op) and summer internships. The Co-op offers college students the opportunity to rotate between working full-time at NSA and attending school and provides the chance to engage in real-life projects that are critical to the security of our Nation. NSA also sponsors summer internships in a variety of topics ranging form Computer Science to Signal Intelligence Collection. Several N.C. A&T students have participated in the Intelligence Analyst internship in recent years.


The Personal Side of Partnership with N.C. A&T

Many North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (N.C. A&T) students have come to work at NSA and continue to have a strong bond. Here are a few of their stories, along with the story of one of the professors who helps them to get here.

Jerrod Kearney - On the Path to Leadership

Portrait of Jerrod Kearney

Jerrod Kearney has an impressive nearly 10-year career at the National Security Agency (NSA) and currently serves as the Executive Assistant to the Deputy Director of the NSA, but he doesn’t hesitate to admit that his initial lack of focus caused him to struggle as a freshman at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (N.C. A&T).

“I learned quickly that the road to success would require diligence,” Kearney said. Because of his rocky start, it took longer than expected for Kearney to obtain his Bachelor of Science in Electronics Technology. “I really got to experience the ups and downs of college; stumbling was a good lesson to remind myself of why I was there. It would turn out to be the motivation I needed.”

After graduating, Kearney spent a year in the workforce, then returned to N.C. A&T for his master’s degree in Electrical Engineering.

“I got tired of being forced into a box and hearing what I couldn’t do,” he said. “I wanted to implement unique ideas and be able to do more for these opportunities, so an advanced degree was my solution.” This time, he was focused and completed the two-year program in a year and a half.

Kearney went to work for the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office but quickly realized he desired a different challenge. In his search, he came across the NSA website. He had no knowledge of the inner workings of NSA, but he sent in his resume and secured an interview.

Although he had job offers waiting, he explained, “When I got the call for an interview with the Agency, I declined all my other opportunities.” His curiosity into NSA’s mission was piqued. “I think the intrigue of the mission coupled with the realization that I knew little about the Agency hooked me…they were so secretive.”

A friend who worked for the Central Intelligence Agency encouraged Kearney to take the job. His friend recommended he watch a popular movie about the Agency, and that and the clearance sealed the deal, Kearney said. “It made it all seem so interesting.”

Kearney came on board in March 2009, as a member of the Program Management Development Program — something he felt would serve him well. At the conclusion of the three-year program, he took a position that regularly required him to fly out of the country to lead engineering projects.

“It was the best position ever. I loved it. There were so many challenges,” he said. “The autonomy to do my job, the global challenges I was able to address, and supporting great leadership all combined for an amazing experience.” 

From there, Kearney was asked to serve as the Deputy Chief of Mission Operations, which provided valuable opportunities and experiences, he said. His current job as executive assistant, however, offers vastly different challenges.

“I’m a mission guy, a technical guy, who accepted a position to do administrative staff office work,” he said, as the Director of NSA approached his desk to ask a question. “But here you get to see everything NSA has to offer, and I love it.”

Kearney is looking forward to his future and aspires to lead another organization within NSA one day.
“There are many more aspects of the Agency to explore,” he explained. “The more I learn about this place, the more I want to stay. All we do for the world really hits home…You can’t get this experience anywhere else.”

Kearney encourages other N.C. A&T alums to pursue a position at NSA.

“Just do it,” he said. “You can do almost any job you are interested in here. Literally, anything you want, you can find here.”


Jenaye Minter - Newly Minted Network Engineer

Portrait of Jenaye Minter

It took several interactions with NSA affiliates at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (N.C. A&T) before Jenaye Minter finally realized she was meant to attend the Cooperative Education Program (Co-op) at NSA – which would allow her to rotate between attending school and working at NSA. 

A fellow student initially told Minter about the Co-op and a few months later, that same student spoke in her sophomore colloquium class about the program. Later that week, she attended a career fair banquet and sat right next to an NSA employee, and the next day at the career fair, she ended up speaking with an NSA employee her roommate had just been telling her about.

“Things like this don’t keep happening by accident,” she said, explaining that she finally applied to the program.

She made it through the application process but got off to a rocky start when she began in January 2015. On her first day, it sleeted and the North Carolina resident didn’t own an ice scrapper. She also struggled being so far away from home and didn’t love her first assignment.

“At one point, I had considered not coming back. It was just a lot, but I had to look at the benefits and weigh my options,” she said. “It definitely wasn’t worth not coming back.”

Minter stuck it out, graduated with a bachelor’s in computer engineering in May 2018 and is now a fulltime employee at NSA. She easily ticks off the benefits of the Co-op program now that it’s behind her. First and foremost is being able to gain real world experience, something you can’t get in the classroom, she said. Second, the 52 weeks she put into the Co-op program counted toward her work experience, yielding a higher salary when she started fulltime. Lastly, she’s already been contributing to her retirement fund for three years, she said.

“Being able to come in as a student but be treated like a fulltime employee, that was pretty unusual,” she said. “I got the opportunity to see some things that I would like to do and some that I would not like to do – which is just as important.”

Working as an analyst in signals intelligence was her favorite experience while rotating through different offices in the program. She also had the opportunity to do reliability qualification testing, analyzing products being used in the field.

“The experience you get here is unique. …There is a lot of specialized work that you cannot find in corporate America,” she said. “Your daily job contributes to protecting the national security of our country, which includes providing technical support to military members out in the field. It’s a gratifying feeling when you can help your country every day.”

That is one of the reasons why she decided to come back to NSA after graduation. She’s now in the Information Technology Development Program and will rotate through various departments, gaining experience in network engineering. NSA is also paying for her to work toward her master’s degree.

“It helps mold you into what a great employee looks like,” she said of the program.
 
Minter also appreciates the work-life balance and the culture at NSA.

“Being a new graduate, there is a learning curve here but there are tons of people to help you get to where you need to be – to where you can be successful in the Agency,” she said. “There are a lot of A&T alumni here and the networking is amazing.”

And if you don’t like what you are doing at NSA, you can change jobs without having to change employers, she pointed out.

“There are so many different avenues you can take, the options are limitless. Regardless of what field you are looking to pursue, there is guaranteed to be something here for you,” she said. “You can even work oversees or spend time working for other intelligence communities such as the FBI, Secret Service or CIA.”

Minter encourages other students to take advantage of the many student programs at NSA.

“How many people have the National Security Agency on their resume before they even graduate college?” she asked.



Steven Cook - Mentor with a Mission

Portrait of Steven Cook

Back in the 1980s, a college classmate from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (N.C. A&T) convinced Steven Cook to take a position at NSA and ever since, Cook has been doing the same thing – convincing N.C. A&T students that they should come to work at NSA. 

Cook is a technical director and researcher at NSA’s Laboratory for Analytic Science (LAS) at North Carolina State University, but he’s also the Academic Liaison between NSA and N.C. A&T – something he’s done since 2008. Even before that, he helped recruit from his alma mater.

“Building relationships is everything,” Cook said. “That’s how a lot of people from A&T come here – there’s a long standing relationship. That’s how I got here, I could see the passion when my classmate spoke about the Agency.”

Cook started at NSA as a summer intern in 1983. He had never heard of the Agency before his friend took the job, but he was drawn in by the interesting work and the diverse workforce. He was offered a fulltime position at the end of his internship, but chose to go back to N.C A&T where he finished both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering. In 1985, he joined NSA full time.

Cook has had a vast career at NSA – having worked many positions in operations and research and even spending time overseas. He was the first African American Director’s Fellow (a leadership opportunity now only available to military), and the first African American in the Senior Technical Development Program.  

“The diversity of work is what has kept me here,” he said. “I’ve had so many opportunities that I didn’t think I would have.”

Cook was given the chance to visit Apple, Google and Disney Imagineering to learn how industry handles innovation. He was able to meet the designers of the iPod and Mac computer, he said, and bring back what he’s learned about innovation.

Cook’s primary passion is recruiting and mentoring students and young employees. He had many influential mentors along the way including the current N.C. A&T Chancellor, Harold L. Martin, Sr. and the retired former director of NSA, Lt. Gen. Kenneth A. Minihan, USAF. In his earlier days at NSA, he helped start a networking and mentoring group for minorities and encouraged the senior leaders to take part. Now he is one of those senior leaders, and he continues to stress the importance of building networks.

“Forming that network is just critical,” he said. “You can’t do anything by yourself here. You don’t get any place without knowing someone or someone knowing you.”

Cook keeps close ties with N.C. A&T alum who come to work at NSA. It’s a relationship he sometimes builds starting when they are college freshman. If there comes a time that they plan to leave the Agency, he asks that they call him first.

“They will call and tell me, ‘I have bad news,’” he said. “Most have good reasons for leaving, and I can’t complain. In many cases, they keep the door open so they can come back. They will pay off their student loans as a contractor, but many will come back.”



Sturhonda James - Cybersecurity Globe Trotter

Portrait of Sturhonda James

Sturhonda James is making the most of her career at NSA. Not only has she learned and experienced a great deal working in cybersecurity, she’s been able to do that in Hawaii for four years and now overseas.  

“The Agency provides a wide range of opportunities in various places around the globe,” explained James, who is currently a cybersecurity liaison. “Since there are so many important missions under one roof, you don’t have to get bored.” 

James had never heard of NSA until she was getting her master’s degree in computer science at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (N.C. A&T) . At a career fair, she met a number of alumni representing NSA who took the time to tell her about the work done at the Agency and opportunities available to her. They also prepared her for navigating the hiring process, she said.
 
“The reason I decided to accept the job offer from the Agency was because of the consistent support I received from the recruitment team during my in processing experience,” she explained. “And once I was here, because the Agency is so big, it was a huge help having those same alumnus become mentors. This has played a huge role in why I have remained at the Agency.”

James was hired into the Information Assurance Analysis Development Program in 2009, a highly competitive program that allowed her to continue to build her technical skills.

“My focus was to build an in-depth understanding of computer network operations from multiple perspectives,” she said. “I wanted to learn both the defensive and offensive side of cyber.”

James spent three years in the program, rotating through different departments within the Agency learning everything from customer engagement to assessing network vulnerabilities. The real-life problems she was able to work on while getting her master’s at N.C A&T really helped prepare her for the work she has done here, she said.

James likes the fact that at NSA, she has the ability to give back to the community. She enjoys volunteering for programs such as CyberPatriot, a youth cyber education program, and the NSA K-12 Speakers Bureau, which sends employees out into schools to give talks in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). 

“I am super passionate about mentoring the next generation of cybersecurity professionals and giving everyone, but especially young girls who aspire to work in cybersecurity, reflections of themselves,” she said. 

Occasionally, James will head back to N.C. A&T to mentor college students there, and she also mentors several A&T graduates that currently work at the agency. That relationship, she said, is instrumental in getting and keeping A&T students in the pipeline to work at NSA. 

James advises current college students to continue to develop themselves professionally and be constantly aware of how their present decisions might affect their future interests. 

“A lot of students face challenges when seeking federal employment that requires a clearance,” she said. “I always tell them to be mindful that their past follows them, whether it’s grades, finances, their social circles or how they conduct themselves in public. While parents are always telling their kids that, they usually don’t listen until they hear it from us.”



Louis - Athlete Turned Computer Scientist

Louis thought he would play football throughout college and maybe move on to the NFL after graduation but instead, the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (N.C. A&T) student is now working at NSA part-time and has different field goals in mind.
“I thought I’d play for a long time but then I found something else I liked and realized the great opportunity,” he said. “Computer science is easier on the brain. … It’s something I can do for fulltime for the rest of my life.”

Louis said he always had an interest in computer science, which is now his major.

“It always interested me how numbers work and how technology has advanced our society and continues to at crazy levels,” he said. 

He’d never heard of NSA until a recruiter came to N.C. A&T and provided information about opportunities for students. Louis made the tough decision to give up football and pursue something that he knew he enjoyed and that would challenge his mind daily.
 
“It was a big change, going from physically pushing my body every day to sitting at a desk for eight hours,” he admitted. 

But it’s been worth it. While working at NSA, Louis has had hands-on experience with computer engineering, electrical engineering and software development. He says that his work has exposed him to the “full gamut of what NSA has to offer.”
 
One thing he has found fascinating about his work at NSA is the ability to see a project, like mobile app development, go from the beginning stages all the way to completion with the various implications that come with national security. Then seeing how these projects immediately support the workforce is rewarding, he said. 

Louis says he owes a lot of his success to the help and support he gained from his professors at N.C. A&T. He actually learned about NSA when the school showcased the Agency as one of many career development opportunities.
 
He advises students to take advantage of opportunities NSA offers. 

“Take advantage of all that’s offered here at the Agency,” he said. “Take advantage of the people you meet and use them as resources. They are definitely there to help you.”

Once he graduates, Louis is guaranteed a job at NSA and is excited to see where that takes him. In the meantime, he appreciates the different after-work sports leagues NSA provides so he can continue playing football (even if it is just tag football) and keeping that team-like mentality. 

 


Dorothy Yuan – Preparing Future Talent
Portrait of Dorothy Yuan 

Dorothy Yuan is one of several professors at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (N.C. A&T) whose work relates directly to the NSA.

Yuan is the interim chair of the Department of Computer Science in the College of Engineering. She is also the director of N.C. A&T’s Center for Cyber Defense, which provides innovative education and training programs that prepare students to become professionals and leaders in information assurance.

“It is a very important field because security and assurance of our computing infrastructure and cyberspace is vital to nearly all aspects of our lives and our social, economic and political system,” Yuan said, explaining why she got into the field. “Also, I did research in computer networks area. So it was natural to extend my field to cyber security.”

N.C. A&T’s Center for Cyber Defense is a National Center of Academic Excellence (CAE) designated by NSA and the Department of Homeland Security. As director of N.C. A&T’s center, Yuan helps develop curriculum that is pertinent to what students need to know for jobs in NSA or other government agencies. She often attends security conferences and collaborates with other security faculty to ensure that students are well prepared to enter the field.

“It can be challenging to keep curriculum up to date in a community that changes so fast,” Yuan said. “But meeting with others in the security community helps me learn new things and learn what is needed. Also, research with Ph.D students keeps us up to date with techniques and technology in cybersecurity.”

In addition to her academic positions, Yuan hosted N.C. A&T’s first GenCyber camp last summer to introduce about 45 rising eighth to 12th grade students to cybersecurity.

“Young people spend so much time on computers and the Internet,” she said. “Our GenCyber camp not only taught them how to protect themselves online but also helped generate interest in the field and develop the career pipeline for cybersecurity.”

Yuan said she believes that students need more than technical knowledge and classroom success to achieve in the security community.

“To do anything in the cybersecurity field, they also have to pass security clearance, so students should avoid behavior that would reflect poorly on them, especially things like plagiarism, unauthorized hacking, illegally downloading music or cheating,” she said.

 


For more information about programs at N.C. A&T, visit the N.C. A&T website 

For more information about NSA's academic partnerships, please send us an email.

To apply for a student program or full-time job at NSA, please visit www.intelligencecareers.gov