Public 2-Year Schools

Brookdale: Student Awarded First Ever Cybersecurity Scholarship

Engineering and technology professor Michael Qaissaunee (left) stands with Michael Giacona on Brookdale’s Lincroft campus. Photo by Brookdale Community College.

Second-year computer science major Michael Giacona has joined an elite group of community college students from across the country this year as a new member of the National Science Foundation‘s (NSF) Scholarships for Service (SFS) program. Giacona, 19, will receive a full-ride scholarship for his final year at Brookdale, along with a $22,500 stipend and an allowance of up to $9,000 for books, health care expenses and professional development services.

If he successfully completes the program, Giacona will be eligible to receive a full-ride scholarship at one of the region’s top technological universities, along with an additional stipend of $22,500 and a high-level internship as he works to complete his bachelor’s degree. After graduation, he will be able to begin his career as a cybersecurity professional with the federal government.

The SFS program, hosted in New Jersey by the Stevens Institute of Technology, is designed to encourage students to pursue careers in cybersecurity and help recruit the nation’s best and brightest computer science graduates to work as cybersecurity professionals for federal agencies.

“These agencies project that they will need to fill roughly 30,000 positions in that sector, and there simply aren’t enough qualified people,” said Brookdale engineering and technology professor Michael Qaissaunee, who is a serving as a campus mentor to Giacona. “That’s why Congress and the NSF are putting so much into this program.”

Giacona, of Manalapan, was selected from among dozens of applicants at Brookdale, each of whom had a 3.5 GPA and were beginning their second year at the college. A volunteer firefighter and a lieutenant with the Manalapan Township Police Explorers, Giacona said he applied for the program in hopes that he could combine his passions for public service with his long-standing interest in computer science.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity, both financially and professionally,” he said. “Obviously the scholarship and the stipend are huge – they will allow me to concentrate on my education and do the best I can while in school. But the work after school is really going to be interesting. To get a career in that field, especially in cybersecurity, would be very exciting for me.”

After submitting an extensive application – including two letters of recommendation – Giacona was invited to meet with Stevens’ SFS principal investigator Susanne Wetzel this fall, along with a dedicated university mentor and representatives from Stevens’ Transfer Student Association. Throughout this year, Giacona will complete 34 degree credits at Brookdale while working with Qaissaunee on an independent study course in cybersecurity fundamentals.

The two also plan to attend a cybersecurity job fair in Washington D.C. this winter. By graduation, Giacona hopes to build a college transcript that will allow him to transfer to Stevens, one of the most highly regarded technological institutions in the region. If accepted, he will receive free tuition, a stipend and an annual allowance at Stevens, along with dedicated academic support and assistance in landing a prestigious internship prior to his senior year.

After graduation, Giacona will go to work as a cybersecurity professional for the federal government, spending at least three years defending the nation from hackers, identity thieves and other digital threats.

“It’s a big commitment, but that doesn’t bother me at all,” said Giacona. “I really enjoy coming to school and learning about computers. The prospect of graduating debt-free with the experience I need to start a rewarding career, that’s huge.”

Qaissaunee said the SFS program will continue in the 2017-18 school year, with at least one Brookdale student being selected to follow in Giacona’s footsteps.

“It’s a very rigorous program, but the Stevens name carries a lot of weight in terms of employment,” he said. “The NSF wants 100 percent job placement out of this program…. It’s a very rare opportunity, because there are not a lot of schools in the country that have these kind of grants. There really is no downside.”

Brookdale Launches ‘Global Read’ Initiative

The initiative encourages all Brookdale community members to read Tracy Kidder’s acclaimed nonfiction book Mountains Beyond Mountains, which centers on the humanitarian work of Dr. Paul Farmer. Farmer, an anthropologist and infectious disease doctor, became an international symbol of health care advocacy for his selfless work with poverty-stricken communities in Haiti.

“In the book, Paul Farmer describes health care as a basic human right,” said Brookdale English instructor and GCP member Kelsey Maki. “That idea is central to the debate we are having right now in regards to our own health care system, and how our nation will approach health insurance and other programs in the years ahead. It’s a very timely issue, with very big ramifications, and we hope to engage students in a college-wide wide conversation about what health care is, and what it should be.”

Faculty from each Academic Institute are using all or part of the book as part of their Spring Term courses, and all Brookdale students are invited to attend a series of free Global Read events throughout the semester. To see a full listing of ‘Global Read’ events, click here.

The initiative kicked off on Jan. 26 with a guest lecture by certified health care application instructors Digna Diaz and Henose Valein, who help local residents and families access affordable health care through the Visiting Nurse Association of Central New Jersey.

Members of Brookdale Community College’s Dreamers+ Club participate in a ‘Global Read’ lecture on Jan. 26. Photo by Brookdale Community College.

The presentation, sponsored by the Dreamers+ club, the GCP and the IEC, focused on the current state of U.S. health care and its impact on immigrant communities.

Diaz and Valein described the various kinds of low- and no-cost health care offered to local families and individuals in need, including free screenings, treatment options and even transportation to medical facilities.

The speakers also gave a guided tour of the website and showed students how to sign up for a federally subsidized health insurance plan, while explaining the differences between premiums, deductibles, co-pays, tax reimbursements and other important terms.

While the website, like the 2013 Affordable Care Act (ACA) that authorized it, may soon be a thing of the past, Diaz said she hopes the millions of Americans who rely on subsidized insurance will not be overlooked under a new federal administration.

“There are more people accessing health care now,” she said. “We are seeing an abundance of people visiting our health centers because they didn’t have insurance before. Which makes you think, because all of these people were walking around sick before.

“There could be changes [to the ACA],” she added. “Some groups are certainly paying very high rates for health insurance…But if it were to go away completely it would be very sad. A lot of people, a lot of children, a lot of single adults with low incomes, would no longer qualify. Thirty million people could once again be uninsured.”

The program was well received by the students and club members in attendance, including Dreamers+ club president Monica Urena and vice president Daysy Arevalo. Both Urena and Arevalo said health care is a major concern for Hispanic individuals and families in Monmouth County.

“Members of our community are limited in what they can do and where they can go for care,” said Urena. “This doesn’t just affect us personally; it affects our friends, family, parents and children. A lot of times people will just avoid going to the doctor because they know they can’t afford it. So we want to help raise awareness of the resources that are available. We want people to know that help is out there.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Dreamers+ advisor and Brookdale history instructor Ashley Zampogna-Krug.

“I always assumed that health care in the U.S. is awesome, and in many ways it is. But when you take a global perspective you realize that many countries are doing things better than us,” said Zampogna-Krug, also a member of the GCP. “You realize that in areas like maternal health, for example, the U.S. is not at the top. It’s important to recognize the problems we have, whether that is access or quality of health care, in order to begin addressing it. It’s also important to shine a light on those people and those regions that don’t have access to quality health care.”