Alaska-raised Harvey Ruth was living in Tennessee when he decided to move to Virginia so he could study cybersecurity at Laurel Ridge in the summer of 2016.
After graduating from high school in 2012, Ruth attended the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, double majoring in music performance and education, but was discouraged by the lack of support for music education in the country.
The bass trombone player relocated to Tennessee where he worked in bars and restaurants. Then he heard from his mother about Laurel Ridge’s cybersecurity course.
“I learned from her that there was a really good cybersecurity program at a school in Virginia, which is where my parents had moved,” said Ruth, who lives in Flint Hill in Rappahannock County.
His mother was correct. Two years ago, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced Laurel Ridge had been designated a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense by the U.S. National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security. Citing tens of thousands of unfilled cyber defense jobs in Virginia, McAuliffe has been a strong proponent of cybersecurity education.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2016, the annual mean wage for computer systems analysts was $98,470. The field is expected to grow 18 percent between 2014 and 2024.
After Ruth earns his associate degree at the end of this spring, he plans to transfer to George Mason University.
“Laurel Ridge’s program hooks right into GMU, which is one of the major schools in the country for cybersecurity degrees,” said Ruth, who enjoys listening to cybersecurity and IT podcasts. “I’m definitely hungry for information and data. There’s so much in the field to work with. My main intent right now is to go into government security, possibly working with a three-letter agency.”
But, corporate cybersecurity is also intriguing and a growing field, too, he said. This past summer he interned at Shentel in Edinburg.
“I was working with their IT security team,” Ruth said. “I actually helped out with some small-scale penetration testing – which I can’t talk about!”
Information Technology Professor Henry Coffman, the program lead for cybersecurity, reached out to students who may be interested in the internship, Ruth said, and “I think I jumped on it first.”
He’s a fan of Coffman, whose past experience includes work with Interpol, the Defense Mapping Agency and the Department of the Navy.
“I really enjoy his lectures,” Ruth, who is a regional officer for the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, said. “He has an absolute treasure trove of stories to tell and experiences to learn from.”
He would definitely recommend the cyber security program at Laurel Ridge to other students.
“If you have an interest in computers and in never being bored for the rest of your life, or if you love to solve – and sometimes create – problems, it’s the field for you,” Ruth said. “It is extremely valuable to familiarize yourself with the tools and architecture at your disposal, and learning how to use those may prove to be an endless source of strength in this field.”
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.