Reached out to be her mentee, ended up with the best advocate one can have, and more!

By Francisca Opoku-Boateng

Growing up, I was blessed to have parents who did not just understand the importance of education but also supported my ambitions. They agreed with the African proverb, “If you educate a manyou educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” Hence, from an early age, I understood the importance of education.

Wise Words, Wise Sisters

Although my path to Cybersecurity—specifically Digital Forensics Investigations—has been convoluted, one thing has been clear to me throughout my academic journey: At a tender age, my father made my two older sisters (who happen to be women in Tech as well) and me understand that technology was going to drive the future.

The truth is I wanted to be a part of that technology drive. Additionally, seeing the passion my two older sisters had for the technology programs they were pursuing in graduate school motivated and interested me to further my education in the technology field.

These experiences helped guide me in choosing my graduate school program at the University of Michigan-Flint, which kick-started my career in the IT field. While consulting for 3+ years in this field, I was exposed to application security at work, which initiated my interest in cybersecurity.

Achieving Objectives

Throughout my technology career and education path, my objective has always been to gain comprehensive knowledge and hands-on experience in the cybersecurity field to become a digital forensics expert/researcher. To achieve this objective, I decided on a doctoral degree which I strongly believed would allow me to pursue my areas of interest through research and dissemination activities. I was motivated to pursue and complete my doctoral program, because I can share my experiences and contribute by giving back. Hence, my journey led me to Dakota State University (DSU) to pursue a Ph.D. in Cyber Defense.

I joined the DSU family back in the fall of 2018 and was privileged to have been exposed to an on-campus club called CybHER. In the spring of 2019, as a member of the club and a graduate assistant to the founders of the club, this opportunity paved the way for me to participate in the NCWIT Aspiration Awards held on campus. During this event, I had an unforgettable experience: Cynthia Hetherington was the keynote speaker!

Meeting Cynthia

I listened to Cynthia give an awesome very motivating speech. Later that same day, the DigForce Lab on campus offered a dark web seminar given by Cynthia. As a lab assistant, I took advantage of this opportunity, because I knew I would love to hear Cynthia one more time. While I had been exposed to the dark web and had some idea what it was, listening to Cynthia as she presented with much more detail was an eye-opener for me. I was BEYOND excited to have had the opportunity to listen to her speak and share her amazing and inspiring experiences in the field. This further sparked my burgeoning interest in wanting to write a dissertation in this field.

“The best place for me to be…”

Thinking back, I was a newbie in the cybersecurity field who sometimes got overwhelmed and was learning hard to catch up while simultaneously experiencing imposter syndrome. Listening to Cynthia that day was the best place for me to be that moment—especially for a young lady with a passion for investigations, working toward a Ph.D., with an objective to become an expert researcher in the dark web space.

I needed that booster, inspiration, empowerment, and revitalization. Reflecting on her presentations, I realize Cynthia made me believe that—as a female in this field—it’s significant to be encouraged by other women. She taught me to exercise my confidence and not just to move out of my comfort zone but also to surround myself with genuine people who will push, support, and tell me I can as I continue to try to GRASP the amazing opportunities out there.

Later that year, I participated in the Rocket Girls CyberSpace Camp on the sponsorship of the CybHER organization at NASA in Florida. There, I met Cynthia again and although she was there briefly, she made sure our few minute’s check-ins were non-negotiable.

Check back tomorrow to read Part II of Ms. Opoku-Boateng’s mentee experience!

About Francisca Opoku-Boateng

Ms. Opoku-Boateng is an assistant professor of cybersecurity at Dakota State University. Her teaching specialization revolves around Digital, Windows, and Mobile Forensics as well as Incident Response. Her research areas include Dark Web and OSINT Investigations, General Cyber Awareness, Black Girls in STEM specifically in the Cybersecurity space, and Cyber Threat Intelligence. Ms. Opoku-Boateng possesses both academic knowledge and hands-on experience in addressing growing cyber threats, risk management strategies, designing and implementing security policies, and investigating cybercrimes. She has worked on several high-stress cybercrimes investigations and assisted law enforcement under the South Dakota Attorney General Office and Division of Crime Investigations extracting and analyzing data as well as solving investigations around the state. These investigations range from identity theft to business email compromises and website scams, drug-related crimes, and fraudulent activities. Ms. Opoku-Boateng is passionate about giving back to her community, serving as a mentor, speaker, and presenter at several events, including community outreach events that involve cybersecurity awareness. Currently, Ms. Opoku-Boateng is an ambassador for Blacks in Cybersercity (BIC) and the Google Women Techmakers. She is a 2022 Women In Cybersecurity (WiCyS) scholar and is an alum of Google Women Techmaker and Scholar.