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Cybersecurity Month Spotlight: Mercy Osei-Hwedie on Being in Tech and Being a Student-Parent at NOVA

Cybersecurity Month Spotlight: Mercy Osei-Hwedie on Being in Tech and Being a Student-Parent at NOVA

Mercy Osei-Hwedie wears many hats from day to day. She’s not just a current NOVA cybersecurity student, she is also a single mom and works with NOVA’s Office of Strategic Insights to assess, identify and implement ways to better serve student parents and improve overall student outcomes as NOVA’s first Generation Hope Student-Parent Fellow.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background:

I am 28 years old, graduated high school in 2012 and initially started at NOVA before going to culinary school. I came back after culinary school and was a Year-Up student scholar. I took a break from NOVA to take care of my son and am back again to study cybersecurity. I am now a current Generation Hope Fellow.

While I was in the Year-Up program, I had an awesome program manager named Erica Collins in the Woodbridge Campus, and she really advocated for me. As a Year-Up student, I made the Dean’s List, which was something that did not occur the first time I went to NOVA. I was fortunate enough to get into the next phase, which was starting an internship. I started at Neustar in February 2020 and then the next month, COVID hit. Afterwards, I had to work from home.

I did not initially get converted to a full-time position at Neustar and I was looking into a lot of jobs. I found out a few months later that I was pregnant, and I felt a little lost. While pregnant, I was still doing a lot of job interviews for a tech opportunity. Thankfully, I had the support of my family.

I had a scholarship with New Futures while I was at NOVA and pregnant. I then had to let go of some classes due to health concerns with my pregnancy. I still felt ambitious after having my son, so I went back to NOVA, not realizing how hard it was to be a single mom and go to school. I was also trying to have a family life and balance work and school.

I didn’t do as well, initially, and thought I was going to do as good as I did while in the Year-Up program, but that wasn’t the case. I then found out about Generation Hope and loved that they were advocating for student-parents like myself.

I am a current Generation Hope Fellow here at the College. I am assisting our OSI team by curating a survey for students, specifically parenting and expecting students. Within this lens, we want all students to participate, as parenting may happen at any stage in your life.

What brought you to NOVA?

I initially went to NOVA to study hospitality and then did an internship at Cuisine Solutions. I then went on to Culinary School at Johnson and Wales University. I loved my experience there and initially wanted to be a dietitian. I finished with my culinary arts degree and was left in a lot

of debt with going to a private university. I realized that, if I continue to pursue to my bachelor’s, it would not be sustainable; so, I returned to NOVA.

In knowing that I had over $30,000 in debt, I had to think about my future. A friend of mine who studied cybersecurity said it was life-changing for her and her family. In starting again at NOVA, I heard about the Year-Up program. I watched a bunch of YouTube videos about the success stories and decided I wanted to do it. I saw how life-changing it was for people. I saw students going in with no experience making $50,000 and up.

Tell Us About Your Experience at NOVA; i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met.

I really enjoy learning from Professor KK (Kwabena Konadu, cybersecurity professor and VCCS faculty of the year ) and enjoy that he teaches in a palatable manner. I can easily understand what he’s trying to teach, and it made learning more enjoyable. He was always so good at reassuring me that I can do well and to not doubt myself. That took me a long way.

Professor Mac taught me a lesson in going above and beyond. I initially felt that he was giving students too much homework and coursework lessons, and I felt at one point it was impossible to accomplish. However, it was a lesson he was teaching that those who to commit to the work, will have a job and career. It taught me that you have to do this to see the reward.

What are you studying or plan to study at NOVA?

I am still studying cybersecurity.

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA?

I would tell an incoming NOVA student to ask for help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to go to the Financial Aid office to ask for scholarships that you could apply for. Go to your advisor and maintain that relationship. I think it is so important to have guidance because we all know we want to graduate with good careers, but we may not all have the guide to get there.

I would say that I didn’t initially think I could get a lot of scholarships and doubted myself before even applying to some. Now that I’ve applied to many and have gotten resources, I keep applying to more. That is what NOVA’s professors and counselors teach you, is to continue to try.

I would continue to emphasize to students that when you go to NOVA, be open to the resources here and you need help, get help. Go to tutoring if you need. Don’t be ashamed if your other peers went to a four-year university. I think that stigma is gone but I know some have that ringing in their ear. But this is about affordability. You will save a lot of money and you will get so much support here. You will find people along the way who will have similar experiences and background.

Where do you see yourself after NOVA or what career pursuits are you exploring?

I want to eventually be a cybersecurity analyst and work myself up the ranks. I love the idea of protecting data for people. I think that would be the thing for me, which is something that helps people out. I want them to know that I can secure something like credit data and making sure the bad guys don’t get it. Data is everything and some people don’t know how valuable their data is. It would be so great to do.

I want what God wants for me. I want to know that whatever I choose and pursue is that I am doing God’s work and he is helping me. In anything I do, I want to always help people out. I don’t want to just do anything because of the money. I want to know that what I am doing is not only valuable and sustainable but it also helps people out

Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) is the largest public institution of higher learning in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls nearly 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield (Medical Education Campus) and Woodbridge, through NOVA Online and high school dual enrollment. We offer more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs to help our students reach their academic and professional goals through university transfers and access to the most in-demand careers. At NOVA, we strive to ensure that every student succeeds, every program achieves and every community prospers. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, visit our website, www.nvcc.eduor call 703.323.3000.

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