After 13 years as director of the Information Networking Institute (INI) at Carnegie Mellon University's College of Engineering, Dena Haritos Tsamitis in 2017 was named the school's first-ever recipient of the Barbara Lazarus Professorship in Information Networking. But her true mark of success is reflected in the young minds she has steered toward a fulfilling future in cybersecurity.
The INI helps foster emerging talent in the engineering space by offering technical, interdisciplinary master's degree programs in information networking, security and mobility. And since joining as its associate director in 2002, Haritos Tsamitis has spearheaded multiple programs designed to give students a head start in this regard while creating a culture of inclusion for underrepresented women and minorities.
Back in 2005, Haritos Tsamitis co-founded Women@INI (WINI), a student organization whose mission is to help female students break into the male-dominated field of engineering, in part through scholarship funds, networking opportunities and mentorships. Later, she would establish the Graduate Organization@INI (GOINI) and the INI Alumni Leadership Council.
“Our goal is to create a nurturing and inspiring learning environment that promotes and celebrates gender and cultural diversity,” says Haritos Tsamitis, a Pittsburgh native. “I have had the privilege of touching the lives of more than 2,000 INI alumni around the world from our graduate programs in information networking, security and mobility.”
This past May's graduation ceremonies represented a key milestone, as Carnegie Mellon issued diplomas to the first four students to ever receive the INI Director's Fellowship – a program Haritos Tsamitis founded in 2016 to help eliminate financial barriers for women and minorities. And in fall of 2018, the INI will welcome an incoming class in which women will comprise 43 percent of the student population – a vast improvement from 2002 when only six percent of the student population was female.
“Dena not only gives of herself as an educator, and leader, [but] she has also assumed the role as a nurturer, cheerleader, trusted confidant, advisor, and most importantly, role model to all her students,” says colleague Shira Rubinoff, president of SecureMySocial and board of advisors member for the Executive Women's Forum on Information Security, Risk Management & Privacy (EWF). Haritos Tsamitis is also a member of the EWF board of advisors and in 2017, the INI and EWF celebrated their tenth anniversary of partnering to offer fellowships to underrepresented minority and female graduate students.
Dena also serves as principal investigator for several National Science Foundation (NSF) initiatives, including the CyberCorps Scholarship for Service (SFS) and the Department of Defense Information Assurance Scholarship Program (IASP), and in that capacity has been awarded more than $25 million in funding for students who go on to serve the federal government as cybersecurity professionals.
Also this past year, the INI partnered with the Carnegie Science Center to host a “Tour Your Future” career exploration program for middle-school and high-school girls. The event was an outgrowth of the “MySecureCyberspace” initiative that has reached over one million people in 167 countries since Tsamatis launched it in 2005.
“Amidst skyrocketing demand for skilled professionals, this event inspired young girls that they, too, can start practicing cybersecurity and do their part to ensure that the online world is a safe place to live, work and play,” says Haritos Tsamitis.