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Gina Pierson BSAST ’16, MSIT ’19

Gina Pierson BSAST '16, MSIT '19For Gina Pierson, the connected world has its benefits and its burdens.

As an information security engineer tasked with maintaining the integrity of her employer’s IT assets, Pierson is ever watchful for suspicious activity occurring in the environment she oversees. “One of my challenges is to be able to analyze and discern malicious activity from legitimate activity or an innocent system misconfiguration,” said Pierson, a 2016 Bachelor of Science in Applied Science and Technology (BSAST) degree in Technical Studies and a 2019 Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT) degree in Information Assurance program graduate. 

Much of Pierson’s time in her position at Atlantic Health System in Morristown, N.J., is spent performing engineering work on the company’s information security infrastructure platforms while monitoring for suspicious activity. On a typical day, this may include responding to client requests and helping her company’s business partners maintain their objectives in a way that does not expose the organization’s IT infrastructure to risk. Her relationship with Thomas Edison State University (TESU) began when she was a civilian employee with the U.S. Army. 

“A representative from TESU came on site one day to speak to us about the school’s academic programs and its alternative pathways for adult learners,” she recalled. The exchange resonated with Pierson who was already proving her aptitude as an information systems security administrator after being placed in an upward mobility workforce program by her employer. 

She later formalized her cybersecurity training by earning her ISC2 Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification. “Though I’m not a military veteran, there were some military strategies that I became acquainted with such as ‘Observe, Orient, Decide and Act (OODA)’ that are used for threat hunting tactics in cybersecurity today. 

While she was advancing in her field and accruing professional credentials, Pierson was still trying to find a way back to higher education. “There were not a lot of 4-year colleges in my area that offered that level of convenience along with a reputable computer science program,” she said. “TESU gave me the opportunity to pursue my BSAST degree at my convenience while continuing to work full time.” In spite of her focused career progression, Pierson’s academic path was not a linear one. “My bachelor’s degree took me a long time to complete while I overcame obstacles in the course of my own life,” she noted. “When I began the program in the mid-90s there were no options to pursue a cybersecurity degree at the baccalaureate level. However, the benefit of my technical studies emphasis was that it was applicable to many of my professional projects.” 

As she progressed to and through the University’s MSIT program, she found that it tapped into her growing knowledgebase and leadership acumen. “It helped me to validate my skills and bring them together into a professional credential. I was also able to delve deeper into research about current cybersecurity threats that I might not have been exposed to in my day-to-day work. My courses also gave me a situational awareness about what to look out for and threats to pursue.” 

Pierson will agree that even a full-time commitment may not be adequate when you’re circumventing cybersecurity threats. “Most threat actors don’t follow a Monday through Friday 9 to 5 schedule and neither do most IT professionals. Our priority is to protect our organizations’ information assets. The concern always centers on whether the controls we have implemented are adequate; and, if someone were to breach those controls, what level of risk does it impose on the organization and how quickly can we detect the activity and eradicate the threat?” 

“We admire Gina Pierson’s accomplishments,” said Dr. John O. Aje, dean of the School of Applied Science and Technology. “She sets an example among cybersecurity and information security professionals who thrive by leveraging their technical prowess, work experience and certifications to excel in our programs and propel their careers. We’re doubly gratified that our workforce-responsive master’s program positions Gina in a rewarding field with an expected job growth that will exceed 27 percent through the year 2026.” 

Off the clock, Pierson enjoys volunteering in her community, most notably with First Night Morris County, a self-funded nonprofit charitable organization that seeks to foster the public’s appreciation of visual and performing arts. She also remains connected to TESU as an alumni ambassador, most recently volunteering during an Admissions Open House. “I believe in giving back to the institutions and communities that have enriched my life and helped me succeed. Another reason I remain connected is, I am a strong believer in the mission of the University, which is to provide an affordable education for adult learners wherever and however they want to achieve it.”