National Hispanic Heritage Month traditionally honors the cultures and contributions of both Hispanic and Latino Americans as we celebrate heritage rooted in all Latin American countries. The Department of Information Systems at UMBC celebrates the contributions and initiatives of our Hispanic/Latin(e/x) faculty, staff, students, and alumni from September 15 – October 15 with a series of spotlights and interviews.
This week, we spotlight Karina Lopez-Brown ’21. Karina received her BS in Information Systems from UMBC, and is currently in our Information Systems MS program with a cybersecurity track, expecting to graduate in December 2024. She shares with us about her grandmother’s teachings, how CWIT and the Cyber Scholars Program sparked her interest in cybersecurity and offers cybersecurity tips and tricks for students to protect themselves online.
Information Systems: What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?
Karina Lopez-Brown: To me, Hispanic Heritage Month is a way to commemorate the Hispanic diversity in the US. It allows people with Hispanic heritage to celebrate and share their culture. Even though Hispanic countries have different festivities among themselves, the warmness and kindness of our roots are the same throughout. Hispanic Heritage Month enables us, people with Hispanic ancestry, to remember, celebrate, and share our amazing culture.
Information Systems: Can you share with us a little about your culture and how it has shaped who you are today?
Karina Lopez-Brown: I am originally from Baja California, Mexico. Baja California is a state adjacent to the United States. Because of its proximity to the United States, it is a diverse community and a lot of tourists can be seen. It is a multicultural state. I was lucky to have my grandmother who encouraged me to always do my best. My grandmother taught me about hard work, religion, spirituality, family values, principles, and many other things. Thanks to her teachings, I knew from a young age that to succeed in life I needed to be disciplined, responsible, and accountable. Also, later on in my life, I was fortunate to find a loving family that adopted and shared their values and love with me. I have grown personally and spiritually thanks to them. I believe my culture and background have enabled me to succeed in my goals and be the woman I am today because of the beliefs and traditions established during my upbringing such as being honest, kind, respectful, and loving.
Information Systems: What made you choose UMBC and your program specifically?
Karina Lopez-Brown: I wanted to be part of a diverse community. UMBC was a perfect fit for me because it is a diverse university and it is not extremely big which allows for more interaction with other students. I also liked all the opportunities that we, as students, have for being part of UMBC. Opportunities such as scholarships, professional and personal development, and student clubs, among others. Personally, I have been involved with the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) and CyberDawgs which is a cybersecurity club where the hosts present information about important and interesting security topics and tools. These two clubs have been extremely beneficial for my professional and academic development.
Information Systems: When did you first become interested in the field of cybersecurity?
Karina Lopez-Brown: Technology and computers have been interesting to me for a long time. However, I became interested in cybersecurity in 2017 when I heard about a free semester-long cyber practicum offered through CWIT. I attended this practicum and learned basic concepts about cybersecurity. Then, in 2018, I applied to be part of the Cyber Scholars Program and got accepted. This program allowed me to learn and participate in many events related to cybersecurity. Being part of the Cyber Scholars Program impacted my decision to pursue an MS in IS and focus on cybersecurity. The meetings were always interesting and allowed me to visualize myself in a role as the person giving the presentation or similar, but the main topic was the need for cybersecurity professionals. After completing my undergraduate degree, I had the opportunity to join UMBC as a graduate student. When I learned about this exciting opportunity, I decided to continue my learning path in cybersecurity. There are a lot of roles that can be fulfilled in cybersecurity. Specifically, I am interested in protecting users from cyberattacks and risk management. Therefore, in the near future, I would like to be a cybersecurity analyst or a vulnerability assessment analyst.
Information Systems: What would you tell students looking to get involved in campus organizations and programs?
Karina Lopez-Brown: I would suggest they search for clubs and activities on the UMBC website and choose a couple that interest them. There are a lot of clubs to choose from. Even if it is only one club that would be enough. The main benefit of joining clubs is meeting other students and socializing. It is a fun way to practice and network which is very important for our professional development.
Information Systems: October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Could you share a few cybersecurity tips and tricks that students can follow to protect themselves online?
Karina Lopez-Brown: Even though we believe only big organizations can be hacked, everyone is vulnerable to cyber attacks. We need to protect our personal information as much as possible. The obvious way to secure our devices is to create a strong password and avoid accessing untrusted websites. Another thing that students can do to protect themselves online is the use of multifactor authentication which adds more than one layer of security to their devices. Also, it is a good habit to check a website’s URLs and verify that it uses the https protocol, which uses encryption for secure communication, instead of http. Constantly review email messages and be aware of phishing emails. Attackers use phishing emails to deceive people into revealing personal information or have some malware that can infect devices. It is important to delete such emails. Finally, I would suggest to avoid revealing too much personal information on social media. Revealing too much about your lives on social media can enable an attacker to use that information to create a fake account or impersonate someone.
Information Systems: What is a favorite childhood memory as it relates to your Hispanic heritage?
Karina Lopez-Brown: I would say that one of my favorite memories is the Posadas Navideñas. These are big celebrations typically from the end of November to December 25th. Posadas are a way to rejoice for the birthday of Jesus. The celebration takes place in the whole block with ornaments and tables with food, beverages, games, music, and a big piñata. It was so much fun.
Information Systems: What advice would you give to prospective students thinking about pursuing an MS in Information Systems?
Karina Lopez-Brown: I would say “Go for it”. There is a lot of information and useful skills that you are going to gain from this degree. In my opinion, Information Systems has it all because you can work in technical and nontechnical areas. With this degree, you will have the opportunity to learn about information technology, programming, cybersecurity, and data analysis, among many other areas, and with this, your horizon of opportunities will expand.