For UMGC Alum, Cyber Competitions Improve Skills that On-the-Job Training Overlooks

Chris Haller loves capture the flag competitions (CTFs). The University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) graduate, who received his B.S. in Computer Networks and Security in 2017 and M.S. in Cybersecurity Management and Policy in 2020, frequently enters these cybersecurity events where individuals compete in security-themed challenges for the purpose of obtaining the highest score.

“They are a huge plus for my career,” he said. “They allow me to hone my skills and they compel me to apply what I’ve learned.”

Haller, the director of Professional Services at Centripetal Networks in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, added that cybersecurity competitions are one of the biggest things he looks for when he hires for his company. “CTFs can help bridge the experience gap for new grads trying to break into cyber,” he said.

Haller’s passion for cybersecurity started young. Driven by his own curiosity, he was always interested in computers and video games. “I was lucky enough to find a position with the Navy to provide formal training,” he said.

Haller’s early enthusiasm for computers, combined with his professional experience in all things cyber, has paid off. He recently captured first-place in the National Cyber League Individual competition, a twice-a-year performance-based collegiate cybersecurity competition that draws more than 6,000 participants.

The National Cyber League, a mission-driven organization that focuses on preparing the next generation of cybersecurity professionals, is known in the competition world as offering some of the most challenging events. For Haller, the biggest challenge is time management and accuracy.

“Entrants are required to answer questions across a three-day period, so it requires a significant time investment,” he said.

Haller’s competition experience has led to on-the-job success, as he and his team address some of the biggest challenges of the day, notably to proactively block advanced threats before they can damage networks.

“At Centripetal we’ve found a way to do this by ingesting cyber threat intelligence, which tells us which IPs and domain names are malicious, and we stop it at the perimeter,” he said. “By stopping attacks at the reconnaissance stage, we prevent malicious attacks downstream.”

Haller believes more cybersecurity teams need to adopt this approach of blocking known malicious threats before they reach the perimeter. “

Every organization that manages a security information and event management system (SIEM) can see millions of alerts every day about the attacks launched against their environment. There is simply no way for a human to review them all,” he said. “Blocking with intelligence about known malicious activity on the internet reduces the number of alerts in the SIEM to manageable levels, making it easier to investigate for malicious activity.”

With billions of threat alerts bombarding defense organizations every day, Haller believes that the industry should be more proactive in its approach—using designated hit lists to block known bad actors from the web and free up time and energy to go after as-yet-unidentified threats.

When he’s not honing his skills in cyber competitions or researching nation-state bad actors damaging organizations around the world, Haller enjoys providing value to customers through professional services, such as penetration testing and incident response. Down the road, he hopes to give back.

“I would like to see myself in a teaching position as well, helping others understand the things I’ve learned on how to protect networks from attacks,” he said.

Work Took Precedence Over Mike Easley’s Studies—for a Crucial Reason 

There’s a year-long gap in Michael Easley’s march toward a master’s degree in project
management from the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). But he had a good
reason for the time out.

As a project manager working for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Easley was one of
only a handful of individuals assigned to execute personal protective equipment (PPE)
acquisitions at a national level during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The various types
of PPE were necessary to meet the high demand throughout VA medical facilities to protect
both caregivers and patients.


“We were executing $millions in PPE buys to support the effort,” Easley said. “I was working a
lot of overtime, and I couldn’t keep it up with my studies. So, I took almost a full year off while
supporting COVID requirements and picked it back up this past year.”
In November, he finished all his degree requirements.

“Unfortunately, some people tried to take advantage of the high demand for PPE,” he said.
“Businesses who had no prior experience in medical supplies were trying to offer products,
products offered at well above market rates, and in some cases, vendors tried to sell
counterfeit products. We had to do a lot of market research to scrutinize vendors promising the
moon. Would they be able to deliver as promised? Would the products be safe for veterans and
care providers? Each product had to go through a clinical review before issuing contracts.”

“Many of the things I learned about project acquisitions, quality management, and risk
assessment came into play,” he said.

Easley said that what he learned from his UMGC professors in the graduate program became
knowledge he immediately applied to his work, which aided in his selection as a deputy
program manager.

He said that his degree program’s last two capstone projects were highly beneficial. They
allowed him to take all he had learned from his professors and from the Program Management
Institute (PMI) to do a self-assessment of his own organization.

“What I learned, I could apply throughout my job,” he said. “Those [capstones] were a critical
part of tying up a master’s degree.”

Easley grew up in Macon, Illinois, a small town where everyone waved to each other because
they all knew one another. Seeing few opportunities after graduating from high school, he
enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1983, coming up through the enlisted ranks and serving
ashore and deployed around the world. His work provided financial and logistical support for
both garrison and deployed troops.

While serving in Okinawa, Japan, he retired in 2008 as a Chief Warrant Officer Four after 25
years of service. His wife Noriko was born in Okinawa, so he remained on the island and took a
position as the logistics chief for the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA)
Okinawa School District. He was responsible for all logistical and facility support for the 13
DoDEA schools in Okinawa.

No one in Easley’s family had gone to college, but he knew that he had to take college courses
and complete degrees to get ahead in the military.

“The first thing you do is get your associate [degree],” he said. “That makes me a little bit more
competitive than the next guy. Then you work on getting your bachelor’s, and then that makes
me a little bit more competitive.”

He completed a bachelor’s degree in management while still in the military, but he did not
begin the UMGC master’s program until returning to the United States in December 2016. In
Northern Virginia, he ended up working for DoDEA at the Marine Corps Base Quantico School
District, which ultimately led him to the VA as a project manager.

Easley is a published photographer with a passion for landscape and underwater photography.
He has traveled around the world with a group of underwater photographers. His last trip was
in the Bahamas, photographing hammerhead sharks. He is an avid golfer and was proud to have
completed the Marine Corps Marathon six times. His best time of 3hrs and 42 minutes was
when he flew from Okinawa to Washington, D.C., and back to Okinawa, all within a five-day trip
that included picking up his son in Illinois.

“I live by two simple rules,” he said. “You do not have to be perfect, just do the right thing,” and
a motto that has continued to serve me well for over 30 years, “Not everything that is faced can
be changed, but nothing can be changed until it’s faced.” If you follow these rules, you can
move forward in life and make a positive change.”

Meeting the Teacher Shortage: An Accelerated Pathway at UMGC

If more than 100,000 certified teachers joined the labor force tomorrow, it still would not be enough to meet the shortfall in schools across the country. University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) is addressing that workplace gap through an accelerated online program that not only carries participants through to a master’s degree but saves them time and money along the way.Continue Reading

Frank J. Principe, Jr. Appointed Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Strategic Partnerships at University of Maryland Global Campus

Accomplished Government Relations Executive to Oversee Expanded Portfolio, Serve on University’s Executive Committee

Adelphi, Md. (Feb. 8, 2021) –University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) President Gregory W. Fowler, has elevated Chief of Staff Frank Principe to senior vice president of Government Affairs and Strategic Partnerships. Principe will remain a key advisor to the president and serve on the university’s Executive Committee.  He assumed his new responsibilities on Feb. 1 and will continue to serve as chief of staff until a replacement is named.Continue Reading

Freedman Leads National Press Club Through Pandemic, Protests, and Politics

For more than 112 years, the National Press Club has been the center of news in Washington as the nation endured two world wars, the Great Depression, the Cold War, civil unrest and terrorist attacks. Its doors were always open to journalists and news sources.

And that is how Mike Freedman expected it to be when he assumed his one-year term as National Press Club president in January 2020. Freedman, the senior vice president and journalist in residence at University of Maryland Global Campus, was looking forward to capping his journalism career with UPI and CBS Radio News with an active year similar to those of his 112 predecessors.Continue Reading

Jennifer Frank, PhD, Named Deputy Chief Academic Officer at University of Maryland Global Campus

Maryland State Higher Education Leader and Experienced Educator and Academic Administrator Joins Nation’s Largest Online Public University

Adelphi, Md. (Feb. 1, 2021)—Jennifer Frank, Ph.D., an experienced academic administrator, educator and expert in higher education policy has been named deputy chief academic officer at UMGC, the nation’s largest online public university. Dr. Frank has served as assistant secretary of the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC), where she oversaw the offices of Academic Affairs, Research/Policy Analysis, and Information Technology.She began her new position on January 19.

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On Her First Try: UMGC Alumna Scores Better Than 95 Percent on CPA Exam, Proves Practice Makes Near Perfect

Renee Cordero could be an excellent source for accounting advice.

The University of Maryland Global Campus 2018 graduate was named a winner of the 2019 Elijah Watt Sells Award given by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants for those who excel at taking the CPA Exam.

Of the 75,000 people who took the exam, Cordero was one of only 133 who scored a 95.5 on all four of the exam sections, all on the first try of taking them.Continue Reading

Alumnus Credits His US Navy Experience, UMGC Education, Mentors with Helping Him Land Prestigious State Department IT Fellowship

One thing Darius Michael ’20 looked forward to most after being awarded a coveted U.S. State Department Foreign Affairs Information Technology (FAIT) fellowship last May, was traveling to Washington, D.C., to meet with Director General Carol Z. Perez and other ranking officials of the U.S. Foreign Service. But, courtesy of the coronavirus pandemic, orientation became a four-day virtual happening instead; The change of plan he said did not dampen his enthusiasm one bit.Continue Reading

2021 DoDEA Teacher of the Year

UMGC alumna Lachanda Garrison, who grew up attending DoDEA schools, wins high praise from the organization that inspired her to teach.

Lachanda Garrison ‘03 is a firm believer in the Department of Defense Education Activity’s (DoDEA) mission to “educate, engage and empower military-connected students to succeed in a dynamic world.” She should know. As the daughter of a U.S. Marine, she grew up in Okinawa, Japan, where she attended DoDEA schools and ultimately graduated from Kubasaki High School.

Today, she is the one at the front of the classroom teaching children of military personnel who are stationed abroad, and she has made her mark on the institution that helped mold her own mind. This year, she is being honored for her work with the 2021 DoDEA Teacher of the Year Award.Continue Reading