NOVA Nighthawk Heading Towards a Career in Foreign Service

August 3, 2023

Iyouel Endashaw, a first-generation Ethiopian American, will soon be pursuing his Bachelor of Applied Science in Cybersecurity at George Mason University. He will have finished two associates at NOVA before going on to his transfer institution.

Iyouel Endashaw
Iyouel Endashaw

He was recently named as one of 15 individuals nationwide selected by the U.S. Department of State for the distinguished Foreign Affairs Information Technology (FAIT) Fellowship. In this fellowship, Endashaw will receive up to $87,000 in academic funding for two years, two summer internships, professional development, and mentorship. Upon successful completion of the fellowship, Endashaw will receive an appointment to the Foreign Service as an Information Management Specialist.

At NOVA, he was active in clubs and activities and was elected to the Student Government Association as Treasurer. He was an active member of the All-Cyber Competition Training Team. Endashaw is currently learning Amharic and Spanish. He is a devout Orthodox Christian and loves soccer, poetry and volunteering in his community.

Now using his FAIT Fellowship to study in Scotland, Endashaw reflects on his time at NOVA, and where he sees his educational journey taking him.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background: I was born in 2001 in Ethiopia. At the time, it was just me, my dad, my mom, and my older brother. We came to the United States in 2002 and, for my family, that’s when we began our path toward the American Dream. My parents made sacrifices to create and support a beautiful family now included another child, my younger sister.

All of my accomplishments are the result of those efforts from my household, and also my whole extended family--cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, etc.---who have shown nothing but love and support to me. I have been blessed with family and friends in my life who’ve pushed and encouraged me to achieve my full potential and who have shaped a large part of the man I’ve become. From having competitive biology lessons with my uncle and cousins in the summer, to playing competitive travel soccer throughout my childhood, these things have made me better.

Personally, I’ve found that, whether through failures or success, I’ve been able to remain grateful and optimistic, trusting in God’s will and looking to enjoy the process as much as possible. When I do this, I find that instead of running into obstacles, I see them as opportunities to grow and learn, a perspective which I think is priceless in life.

What brought you to NOVA? NOVA was always an option for me, especially because both of my parents were NOVA students in the past. I ended up coming to NOVA for two reasons: the first was because it’s so affordable and the second was because I knew that NOVA had so many opportunities for me to succeed. In high school, I remember there being a negative stigma about community colleges, which initially drove me away from coming to NOVA; but I’ve found that it’s such a unique college that provides its students with the resources and opportunities they need to succeed, both now and in the future.

What are you studying at NOVA? I came to NOVA twice. The first time was in 2021 as an engineering major. It was completely online, and NOVA did an amazing job with the COVID transition and adapting to the new virtual technology. After finishing my first year online at NOVA, I transferred to Virginia Tech, but I found that engineering wasn’t the career I had imagined it to be, and thankfully, NOVA made it seamless to return and switch my major to Cybersecurity.

I ended up deciding to switch to Cybersecurity at NOVA because the program is so detailed, and it’s designed to set you up for success in the industry by the time you graduate. Much of the faculty are adjunct professors, so in addition to teaching us the relevant in-class knowledge, they provide students with a great perspective on the cybersecurity industry like what skills and opportunities to pursue in the future. They continually push us forward and tell us the steps we need to take to become employable and valuable, both as students and as professionals. I felt that in my time at NOVA, I got both theoretical and practical, hands-on knowledge that has set me up for success.

Tell us about your experience at NOVA (i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you've met) What I really appreciated at NOVA was that there was a support system. They knew how to direct their students, and they knew how to help us achieve our goals. I really want to give a shout out to the Woodbridge Campus. It’s a wonderful place to learn, and the staff and students were great. I really liked being a part of the All-Cyber Team because I had an opportunity to put the knowledge I had learned in class into use in a competitive, team-based format.

NOVA has made my learning so rewarding because, no matter what stage I was in, I was always able to see the end goal. I want to give shoutouts to my Information Technology Professors William McLaughlin and Sherri Vaseashta. I also want to thank my advisors, Ethel Jones and Danielle Burnett. I wanted to give a shout out to the friends and peers I have met and connected with during my time here at NOVA, Kathleen Orellana, Melanie Diaz, Emmanuel Adenji and Joel Ramos.

Where do you see yourself in five years or further? In five years, I imagine I’ll still be working in the Department of State in a foreign service information technology role. At this point I’m just looking forward to beginning my journey there. But in all honesty, who knows where I’ll be in five years? I have some crazy ideas and passions that I’ve considered, like potentially working as a U.S. Diplomat, as a sports data analyst for one of my favorite sports teams like FC Barcelona or maybe even as a financial advisor for an investment firm--but I believe that will be later in life.

For now, I’m looking forward to building my cybersecurity skillset and definitely hoping to work in a Cybersecurity consultant or data analytics role sometime in the future. After my associate degrees from NOVA and my bachelor’s from GMU, I’m also aiming to get a master’s degree in the next five years.

Wherever I am, I am very excited and blessed. There is a lot to look forward to, like the FAIT Fellowship and my time here in the study abroad program. I know that it comes with work, but seeing the fruits of my labor make me optimistic about it all. When I was initially applying to the FAIT program, a part of me definitely thought I was not going to get it, but coming from the background I came from I’d seen that, with prayer, hard work and perspective, it’s possible for anyone to achieve their goals, no matter how big and lofty they may seem!

Topics: international connections, featured article, scholarship and research, student success