Amy Buchanan: Cybersecurity student first community college student in U.S. to be finalist in competition ‣ Laurel Ridge Community College
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Amy Buchanan: Cybersecurity student first community college student in U.S. to be finalist in competition

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Laurel Ridge cybersecurity student Amy Buchanan was the first community college student in the nation to be named a finalist for the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) Aspirations in Computing Awards.

Buchanan, a Woodstock resident, was among 60 national finalists named by NCWIT, and one of just two from Virginia, in 2018. The latter fact took her by surprise.

“That feels amazing,” she said, tearing up. “It feels amazing to be a finalist anyways, but to know there were only two of us in Virginia…”

As part of her application for the Aspirations in IT scholarship, Buchanan shared a video she created in a computer programming class that would appeal to small children, while also teaching them math skills. Hers was a spin-off of “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.”

Additionally, Buchanan had to complete a rigorous application and garner faculty recommendations.

She appreciates the flexibility afforded by Laurel Ridge, and scheduled her classes around her full-time job at Navy Federal Credit Union – where she is a supervisor in the fraud department – and taking care of her father while he was being treated for cancer. He has since passed away.

“Navy Federal provides a really great opportunity,” Buchanan said. “They will help you with your education. That is wonderful for me, because otherwise it would be very hard for me to afford to go to college.”

Another way Navy Federal encourages education for its employees is by partnering with Laurel Ridge to offer general business and supervision career studies certificates via on-site classes at the credit union.

After she graduates from Laurel Ridge, Buchanan plans to earn her bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity from Old Dominion University. ODU offers online classes, as well as distance learning classes on-site at Laurel Ridge’s campuses, and computer access at the Luray-Page County Center.

“I’ve always been interested in technology and how it works,” Buchanan said. “I want to be the one to stop hackers.

“Coding really intrigues me. There are so many different possibilities and there are so many things you can do with it. It’s very powerful.”

Homeschooled for high school, she has worked full time since her mid-teens, often having two jobs at once. Past jobs have included McDonald’s, restaurant work, an office job and a position at an ice cream stand.

Buchanan has found her professors at Laurel Ridge really supportive.

“They have been amazing,” she said. “Between Computer Science Professor Melissa Stange and (cybersecurity program manager) Professor Henry Coffman, I don’t know how I truly would make it.”

It’s Buchanan who Stange finds amazing. At the NCWIT Summit, it was announced that the organization will add a collegiate group for community college students and freshmen and sophomores at four-year institutions for the awards because “the Laurel Ridge submission taught them they can’t compare submissions from PhD students and students at two-year colleges,” according to Stange.

“You alone changed a national organization, put Laurel Ridge on the map, and made the organization recognize the capabilities of community college women,” Stange told Buchanan. “You should be very proud of yourself!”

Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.