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Successful sales pitch leads online student Kacey Wheeler to start cybersecurity business

Kacey Wheeler is already a fledgling entrepreneur, despite being only months away from graduating from Boise State University’s online Bachelor of Applied Science in Cyber Operations and Resilience.

In March 2023, Wheeler pitched a business idea at Hackfort, a technology branch of Boise’s Treefort Music Festival. Her idea for Hacky Sack Security, a cybersecurity education business geared toward children and older adults, won $4,000.

“I will be able to pitch again at Boise Entrepreneurial Week with it in October,” she said. “I will be working on that a lot this summer.”

Photo of Kacey Wheeler.
Photo provided by Kacey Wheeler.

The idea for the business came when Wheeler taught computer science, including coding, at a school in Boise for five months.

“I saw the lack of teaching kids and elderly people,” she said. “Those are big areas we need to try to teach cybersecurity to more. Kids are just kind of handed iPads and these other devices without knowing what that means and how to protect themselves and their information online.”

Wheeler also recently started a summer internship at the Institute for Pervasive Cybersecurity at Boise State. Plus, she works part-time as a sales representative at Old Fashioned Fruits and Vegetables in Kuna, Idaho.

“Since I have a lot going on, there’s no way I would have been able to do the bachelor’s program going in person,” she said. “Online allows me to do some things outside of classes, like starting my own business. I enjoy the classes, too.”

The faculty in the online program are experts in the field of cyber security and many work in government and private sectors. This experience transcends theory to empower students with professional skills and build their network. Knowing a chief information security officer can come in handy when starting the job search and guarantees that students in the program are learning in-demand, timely skills.

“For cybersecurity, a lot of people are self-taught and do certifications on their own, but I like that Boise State has the program to give you those resources and show you what’s out there. I would not have known where to start otherwise.”

Finding the Right Domain

Wheeler, who is from Meridian, Idaho, originally enrolled in Boise State’s computer science program as an on-campus student. She did a web development internship a local start-up company for 14 months.

“I enjoy programming a lot, but I heard more about the cybersecurity education that Boise State offers, which led me to switch to it,” she said. “My advisor in the computer science program connected me to the advisor for this program. I fell into it a bit.”

Because she already had several computer science credits, Wheeler is on track to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in December.

“It’s been really cool meeting other people and hearing about their backgrounds,” she said. “Being on campus and going to classes, there were people with different backgrounds, but it’s not as varied as with an online degree. I am talking to people who live across the country.”

So far, Offensive Security is Wheeler’s favorite course in the finish the cyber operations and resilience program curriculum.

“It was super interesting,” she said. “It’s hacking school. For all of my courses, I have to sign an ethical hacking release saying what I use I will use for good. It’s not like you do that for any other major. Seeing how people can carry out cyberattacks is crazy.”

The information Wheeler learned early in her college career paved the way for her to make a successful transition to her current program.

“A lot of people going into cybersecurity already have a tech background, so having that foundation from the classes I took really helped,” she said.

Gathering Additional Data

Once Wheeler graduates from the online bachelor’s degree program, she plans to enroll in Boise State’s online Master of Science in Cyber Operations and Resilience. She will be the first person in her immediate family to earn an advanced degree.

“My family and friends are super excited,” she said. “I tell everyone I do hacking school, so my friends think that’s cool.”

In the meantime, Wheeler is working hard to get Hacky Sack Security off the ground before pitching the idea again later in 2023.

“It’s pretty early in development,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting to start this business. I worked hard to see where I want to take this idea. I want to keep it going long-term.

Wheeler will also gain additional teaching experience after she enrolls in the master’s degree program in January 2024. Over the summer, Wheeler is teaching a cybersecurity workshop at Boise State’s eGirls Conference to test the curriculum she is developing and see how it is received.

A benefit that drew Wheeler to the program was that students have control of when they complete coursework, allowing time for teaching, building a new business or enjoying life. That flexibility allows students to switch to part or full-time study as schedules become more busy. The best part for Wheeler, as she looks toward the graduate option, is the ability to tailor courses and choose hands-on experiences that prepare her for what is next.

“I enjoy that this program is hands-on with a lot of different labs,” she said. “In the master’s program, you choose to do two of three things — a project, a certification or teaching at a community college. That will be a cool experience to do my own project and teach at a community college.”

In addition to enhancing her entrepreneurial endeavors, Wheeler hopes to make an even bigger difference in the cybersecurity world.

“I want to work on my business, but also working in cybersecurity legislation would be really interesting,” she said. “The internet is still largely unregulated with laws and standards.”

No matter what the future holds, Wheeler is glad that she is laying a solid career foundation at Boise State. Her experience has given her perspective she can share with other students who are considering finishing their degree.

“A lot of people have hesitations about being an online student,” she said. “Boise State built these majors to be online, and they have a lot of resources to help people. It’s not something to be scared about. There’s a lot of support. I have had great advisers help me through the program, too. It’s been a great experience.”

Learn More About Cyber Operations and Resilience

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