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From code to culture: meet cyber instructor Charmaine Sample

Portrait of Charmaine Sample
Charmaine Sample

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Charmaine Sample has been contributing to the field of cybersecurity before “cybersecurity” was a commonly known term. She was first exposed to programming in middle and high school and found she was quite good at it. She majored in computer science and earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Pittsburgh.

Naturally, she began her career as a programmer. It was about a decade later that she moved into a security role. Her curiosity and passion for the subject grew, eventually leading her to specialize in integrating, installing and troubleshooting firewalls — an emerging technology in the cybersecurity landscape. Dedicating herself to the topic, Sample soon became an expert on firewalls. She developed a firewall troubleshooting course and taught at the SysAdmin, Audit, Network and Security (SANS) Institute, a well-known company that specializes in cybersecurity training.

Being on the cutting edge of cybersecurity, Sample became familiar with some of the significant cybersecurity problems that persisted throughout the years. This inspired her to pivot into research, which she did while earning her doctorate at Capitol Technology University, researching how cultural values influence decision-making in cybersecurity. It was an exciting time for Sample; she was passionate about this topic and continually intrigued by her test results. She took a quantitative approach to her research topic, which was a massive success.

After completing her dissertation, she was asked to continue researching this topic for the United States Army Research Laboratory. Looking back now, Sample sees this time as the highlight of her career. She was researching the topics she wanted to study, her work was being published and she was adding invaluable knowledge to the field.

A Legacy of Learning

Since successfully contributing to several different areas of cybersecurity, Sample views teaching as the final frontier — the last piece to accomplish in her career journey. For her, it is not about proving herself but empowering others to carry on the legacy.

In her words, “You help other people pick up where you left off so they can take those things to the next level.”

Now, in her current stage of life, teaching represents an opportunity to give back and leave a lasting impact on the next generation of cybersecurity professionals.

With the impressive credentials she has earned, any university would be lucky to have Sample as an instructor. She chose Boise State University because of the interdisciplinary approach of the cyber operations and resilience program which allows students from all backgrounds to develop technical cybersecurity skills and incorporate them with their interests.

“Think about how you can take your knowledge, passions and things you are good at and see how you can apply it to cybersecurity,” she said.

For example, those interested in psychology could pursue decision science in cybersecurity, and students passionate about sustainability could tackle issues around energy-intensive data centers. This forward-thinking approach encourages students with diverse perspectives to approach cybersecurity with an open mind.

Systems Thinking in Cybersecurity

In her course, CORe 400/500 Cyber Systems Thinking, Sample guides students in exploring how cyber system thinking impacts operation, resiliency and metrics of cybersecurity solutions. According to Sample, a key benefit of systems thinking is that it improves overall communication in an organization.

“I think systems thinking is really important because it’s that piece that gets you to talk to the other people… everyone has a different view of the system that they are seeing,” she said.

This way of thinking encourages people to view a situation or problem as a whole rather than just isolated parts. By examining the relationships and interactions between different system components, individuals can better understand how the system functions. Instead of merely addressing symptoms or immediate issues, systems thinking aims to identify the underlying root causes of problems. This results in more effective problem-solving, addressing the core issues rather than treating the symptoms repeatedly.

Diverse Approaches in Cybersecurity

According to Sample, two growing trends in cybersecurity are artificial intelligence (AI) and data science. These fields are increasingly converging with cybersecurity, presenting exciting opportunities for professionals who can bridge these disciplines. AI is seen as a powerful tool that can be used to solve various problems, but proper research is necessary as biased data can manipulate AI results.

On the other hand, data science is a different way to tackle cybersecurity challenges. It focuses on using scientific methods to check if data is objective, detect changes in data, and understand how computers process information. Even though AI is growing, Sample thinks data science is a better area for cybersecurity professionals to focus on.

As cybersecurity rapidly evolves, Sample believes in the importance of adaptability and open-mindedness. She also believes that individuals with diverse academic backgrounds often excel in cybersecurity because they can approach problems from different angles. While technical expertise is vital, she encourages students to consider interdisciplinary approaches.

Regardless of the cybersecurity niche an individual decides to pursue, Sample’s advice remains the same: “Have fun with this. Find your passion in cybersecurity.”

Learn More about Cyber Operations and Resilience at Boise State

Want to learn from faculty like Charmaine Sample? Boise State University offers undergraduate and graduate cyber programs that prepare you for a purposeful career. In our increasingly interconnected world, skilled cyber professionals are vital to the safety of our economy, government and society. Learn more about Boise State’s cyber programs today!

Cyber Programs at Boise State