Studying Abroad: Nighthawks Attend NOVA’s New IT and Criminology Bootcamp in Scotland

August 22, 2023

NOVA’s first summer study abroad program at Abertay University in Dundee, Scotland, was a resounding success after several years in the making, which included a COVID-19 delay.


The inaugural Ethical Hacking, Cybersecurity and Criminology Bootcamp lasted eight weeks. It included four weeks of virtual instruction and the final four in person at Abertay University. 14 NOVA students received a life-changing and unforgettable experience with intensive academic programming, networking and cultural exchange.

The Ethical Hacking, Cybersecurity and Criminology Bootcamp was made possible through the U.S. Department of State’s IDEAS (Increase and Diversify Education Abroad for U.S. Students) grant.

Upon arriving in Scotland on July 9,  the students received a warm welcome from their own NOVA welcoming committee who were in Scotland to support the program, and Leeza Fernand, NOVA’s director of the Community College Initiative (CCI) program and associate director of international education.

For Fernand, it was incredibly gratifying to welcome the students to Scotland for this inaugural Bootcamp since COVID slowed down the program's launch. She describes that moment when the students stepped out of the airport, "They were just so incredibly excited! Most of them had never traveled to another country, and it was their first time having a passport. They just really came together as one united group."


In August 2022, NOVA administrators visited Scotland to finalize the program’s details and expand it to include ADJ students. Then our Abertay counterparts from Scotland came to NOVA to visit.

Fernand said the extra time caused by the COVID delay was used wisely to improve the program, allowing for the site visits between both institutions. "The initial vision for the program was focused solely on ethical hacking and cybersecurity. After extensive discussion with NOVA's Academic Affairs, Student Services and subsequent virtual and in-person conversations with Abertay administrators and faculty, we thought, since one of the courses in the Bootcamp program was criminology, why not open this up to our criminal justice students in NOVA's Administration of Justice Program, Fernand said. "To maximize the benefit and reach more of our student population, we added the ADJ program."

The decision to send NOVA faculty as chaperones for the Scotland trip turned out to be a great professional development opportunity for them as well as a benefit to the students. Not only were they chaperones, but they were also engaging and building rapport with the Abertay faculty. Both sides were learning from each other, and their expertise on both sides continued to grow.

Abertay University is one of the leading tech universities in the United Kingdom, and it is well known for its expertise in video game design and education. Their degrees in this field have been highly ranked in Europe for the last seven years.

Fernand said the Bootcamp at Abertay University will be offered again in the summer of 2024. These are growing fields on an international level, and it is anticipated this will be a very important and popular program. Fernand said it was only possible to create a program like this with the generous IDEAS grant from the State Department and the tremendous collaboration between NOVA and Abertay.

Few American community college students have the opportunity to study abroad, but NOVA understands the life-changing benefit of international study for students and makes these opportunities a priority. Those selected for this program are able to expand their networks and their global mindset.

Study abroad opportunities, particularly those for community college students, are a top priority for the U.S. Department of State, which is why the IDEAS grant is offered annually. During the May 2023 NAFSA (Association of International Educators) Conference in Washington, D.C., Fernand was able to speak with Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Lee Satterfield about community colleges and promoting access to international education through the IDEAS grant, particularly in fields that are less frequently represented – including IT and Criminal Justice. Fernand was one of only 10 people to meet with the assistant secretary and the only community college represented in the group.

Read about the students’ experiences abroad:

Brayden Whisler, who had never left the United States before was thankful for the ability to travel. “The lecturers in Dundee are absolutely amazing! My lecturers cared deeply about their students and did everything they could to ensure our success. Apart from classes, the faculty set up weekly excursions for the entire cohort, so we got to visit Edinburgh, St. Andrews and plenty of historic castles throughout the Scottish landscape!

“Before this trip, I had never left the United States and was intimidated by the prospect of it. If you get a chance to go on a study abroad program, do it! You will not regret it!”

Taiba Haidari noted that studying abroad was an amazing journey for her. “I was blessed to study, explore and strive for more success. Classes were taught by very knowledgeable professors and experts in the field. I really enjoyed taking both cyber and criminology classes at Abertay University.

“If you’d like to enlighten your future academic destiny and develop new skills, I highly recommend the (study) abroad opportunity at NOVA.”

Zachary Gonzalez is thankful for NOVA even offering programs such as this and opportunities for Nighthawks. “I had a fantastic experience attending this institution, first earning a certificate as a pharmacy technician, and now doubling in a criminology certificate program and Administration of Justice associate degree program.”

“First and foremost, my great-grandfather is from Scotland, and it was almost serendipity for a career-aligned program to be offered in this country. Ultimately, the greatest value in the journey, lies in understanding the differences in criminology and criminal procedure between the U.S. and Scotland/Europe.”

Maroua El Alaoui is considering transferring to Abertay University to finish her four-year degree after earning her associates at NOVA. “I'm considering doing my bachelor's there at Abertay University if that's an opportunity that I can work out. Then possibly I can minor in criminal justice. I found the Criminology course so incredibly fascinating. I'm just so curious, and I want to learn as much as I can.”

El Alaoui was featured in another story about her incredible journey here: Gilman Scholar Attends IT and Criminology Bootcamp in Scotland. She was awarded the U.S. Department of State's Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship and decided to use it to attend the Ethical Hacking, Cybersecurity and Criminology Hybrid Bootcamp in Scotland.

Iyouel Endashaw said studying abroad in Scotland was an amazing journey for him. “This program has exceeded all my expectations! Now as we come to the end, I'm already missing Dundee. If I could talk to anyone who has doubts or questions about doing this program, I would tell them to sign up with no hesitation--it's so worth it!" 

Endashaw was selected by the U.S. Department of State for the distinguished Foreign Affairs Information Technology (FAIT) Fellowship. Read more about his journey here: NOVA Nighthawk Heading Towards a Career in Foreign Service

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