Sydney Patton: 2024 Outstanding Graduate for the Middletown Campus ‣ Laurel Ridge Community College
Skip to Content

Sydney Patton: 2024 Outstanding Graduate for the Middletown Campus

Patton speaking at ceremony
Sydney Patton has been named to the PTK All-USA Academic Team.

Sydney Patton, the 2024 Outstanding Graduate for the Middletown Campus, has wholeheartedly embraced life as a mature college student.

In addition to maintaining a full course load, she has served as president of the Middletown Campus chapter of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), an academic honor society for two-year colleges; regional vice president for PTK’s Virginia and West Virginia region; Student Ambassador; treasurer of the Pride Club; member of the cybersecurity competition team; and work-study.

Patton was recently selected for the All-USA Academic Team, among other achievements.

“College has been nothing like I expected,” she said. “It has been awesome.”

Patton’s success could have been derailed in September 2022 when she contracted covid and a brain-eating bacterial infection from a tick bite at the same time. She was met with compassion and understanding from her professors, especially Cybersecurity Professor James Allen who held Zoom sessions with her to keep her on track.

“It could have been very easy for me to give up because I was having memory issues, I couldn’t focus, and it was incredibly difficult,” said Patton.

Earlier during the pandemic, the idea of enrolling in Laurel Ridge started to form in Patton’s mind. She enjoyed online programming being offered through Samuels Public Library in Front Royal, which led to her thinking perhaps online classes would suit her. Then, fate came calling in the mail.

“I got a postcard for the G3 grant and I had kind of thrown it on the pile and thought, ‘I’ll get back to that,’” said Patton.

G3 (Get a Skill, Get a Job, Get Ahead) is a last-dollar program that pays any remaining tuition after all grants and scholarships have been applied for eligible students studying healthcare, early childhood education, public safety, technology, or manufacturing or skilled trades.

Patton did get back to that postcard, enrolling in Laurel Ridge in September 2021. It wasn’t her first foray into college. While in high school, she took some dual-enrollment marketing classes through the University of Toledo.

“I had started that, but then I moved to Virginia and did the whole mom thing,” she said.

Life experiences and an affinity for computers led Patton to an interest in cybersecurity.

“I had experienced stalking,” she said. “I realized early on that this is an area where policy and policing leave people feeling helpless. There needs to be the voice of somebody who has had the experience. I wanted to be that voice and hopefully help shape policies and practice that can make a difference.”

Initially, Patton thought she might like to work in an activist area of cybersecurity. But then she met Professor Allen.

“He pegged me as a Robin Hood type right away,” said Patton, who in addition to G3 funding, received the Jeffery L. Ross Memorial Endowed Scholarship this academic year. “I wanted to help the underdogs. He helped shape the professional in me. We’re all victims of data breaches and things like that. As much as I love my field, sometimes we’re not always very good at making technology accessible for the average understanding.”

She found she is able to break the information down into simpler terms, and her goal is to eventually get her master’s degree and come back to Laurel Ridge as a cybersecurity professor.

While pursuing her degree at Laurel Ridge, Patton also got involved in fighting high-profile book-banning efforts against Samuels Public Library in Front Royal. She founded Save Samuels in defense of the library and its librarians. Most of the books being targeted were LGBTQ-themed.

“I saw it for what it was – it was censorship,” Patton said.

Those working in cybersecurity follow the CIA triad – confidentiality, integrity and availability of data – she said.

“For me, the library is about accessibility,” Patton said. “That’s where people go for information. If we remove materials from the library, we’re removing accessibility to data.”

Impressed by Patton’s academic prowess, campus volunteerism and involvement, and her support of others, English Professor Jenni VanCuren, co-advisor for PTK, nominated her as the Outstanding Graduate for the Middletown Campus.

“Sydney was the face of the Save Samuels movement during the summer of 2023,” VanCuren said. “Her work with the library brought national attention, and put her efforts and the library’s mission in the spotlight. Libraries from across the U.S. contacted her, both in support of her work, and to ask for assistance in their communities.”

Her activism with the library also led to her being featured in the Washington Post, the Northern Virginia Daily and some TV stations. It also has helped Patton gain recognition for several prestigious scholarship opportunities.

She was one of just 20 students selected from among more than 2,200 nominations chosen for the All-USA Academic Team, which includes a $5,000 scholarship. The team is sponsored by Cengage with support provided by the American Association of Community Colleges and Phi Theta Kappa. Those two organizations – along with The Coca-Cola Foundation and The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation – also sponsor another scholarship Patton has received, the 2024 New Century Pathway Scholarship.

Additionally, Patton has been named a semi-finalist for a scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

After earning her associate degree in cybersecurity in May, Patton is transferring to Shenandoah University to earn her bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, and hopes to then get her master’s degree. Her goal is to return to Laurel Ridge as an adjunct professor in cybersecurity and help the program continue to grow.

“Cybersecurity is a team sport,” said Patton. “You need to build your team. I had no idea that I would want to teach cybersecurity. I thought I would be an activist. Through Professor Allen, I learned that you can do both. There’s a place in cybersecurity for everybody, and it needs our voices.”

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.