The door to Strayer alumna Cathy Hubbs’ corner office is always open. Passing staff wander in to seek her counsel, and she’s surrounded by reminders of what brought her to this place. Photos of her family dot her desk and bookshelves, while her degrees and professional certifications hang on the walls.
As chief information security officer at American University in Washington, D.C., Cathy has a very important task. Every day at her job is different as Cathy safeguards new and existing data. “Our data is stored on servers, smartphones, thumb drives—it’s all over the place,” she explains. On some days, Cathy delivers security awareness training, helping staff and students avoid falling for email phishing attempts to steal data. Other days, Cathy advises university officials about which data must be classified as sensitive. To determine the best protection methods, she stays abreast of industry standards and federal and state regulations, and ensures that the university is following protocol. And if there is ever a data breach, she and her team respond—working with the police if needed—though she spends quite a bit of time making sure a breach doesn’t happen.
Finding Her Way
After many years in the business, Cathy has excelled in an industry where men vastly outnumber women. But she wasn’t always sure of her path. Growing up in Seattle as a free spirit who loved the outdoors, she thought she would become a horticulturalist. She enrolled in Washington State University in the early 1980s and stayed for three semesters before deciding to enlist in the U.S. Air Force. In late 1984, she was stationed at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. After she was honorably discharged in 1986, Cathy began assisting the librarian in the Navy Center for Applied Research in Artificial Intelligence, also in D.C. There, she discovered her calling. “Technology truly was taking off, and I got on board,” she says.
By the 1990s, Cathy was efficiently using email at work—a new practice at the time—and was beginning to see how important the web would become. After she left the Navy Center, she took on roles as an application developer and systems administrator, which led her to become George Mason University’s first director of IT security in 2002. She created the Northern Virginia school’s first computer security incident response team, staying there for five years before moving to her current position at American University.
Cathy has always sought out education. She earned her bachelor’s degree in computer information systems from Strayer University and then her Master of Education in instructional design from George Mason University. She became a member of the security council of EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association that promotes the intelligent use of information technology in higher education. She also helped co-found the Virginia Alliance for Secure Computing and Networking, sharing best practices with other IT professionals who worked in higher education, and has mentored other women who work in the field. Why all of the collaboration? “It really helps to partner with other people,” Cathy says. “Security is challenging; it’s complicated. It’s important to be able to talk through complex concepts with others in your field.” It also keeps Cathy at the top of her game, so that her staff and business partners can rely on her. And she’s looking forward to what’s next. “Technology is always changing and it keeps you on your toes,” she says. “There is always a problem to be solved!”