Before he started studying at Laurel Ridge in 2016, Trevor Riley-Jewell was making $9.25 an hour and struggling to pay his bills. Today, he is working in cybersecurity and pulling in a salary that is “up into the six figures” as a cybersecurity engineer.
The 2012 James Wood High School graduate worked several jobs before the lures of “location, convenience and cost” led him to choose Laurel Ridge.
“What kind of motivated me was the fact that I was doing factory work, a lot of “hard” work, so to speak, and I knew I needed to get a certain level of salary to pay rent,” Riley-Jewell said.
When he asked for a raise, he was offered a 5-cent increase. Riley-Jewell, who had done some IT work in the past, decided to enroll in cybersecurity classes at Laurel Ridge.
Then-program lead, Dr. Henry Coffman, was “very energetic” and passionate about the program, which was one of the first two in Virginia to be designated a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense by the U.S. National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.
Recently, Laurel Ridge’s associate of applied science in cybersecurity degree received accreditation by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) Computing Accreditation Commission (CAC). It is the only community college in Virginia to earn the accreditation and among one of the first in the world.
“Dr. Coffman definitely motivated the students and kind of pushed them a bit,” Riley-Jewell said. “Computer Science Professor Melissa Stange was also a big part of the program as well.”
While at Laurel Ridge, he was president of Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society for two-year colleges, Student Government Association vice president, captain of the cyber team and a member of the cyber club, John Quincy Adams Society and hiking club. Additionally, he was a work study for the college’s IT department and received the Winchester Rotary Club Scholarship through the Laurel Ridge Foundation.
Riley-Jewell was awarded Outstanding Achievement in Cybersecurity at commencement in 2019. After his graduation, Riley-Jewell transferred into George Mason University’s cybersecurity program, earning his bachelor’s degree in December 2020.
Today, the Stephens City resident does cybersecurity engineering for a contracting company. Riley-Jewell said networking at one of the cybersecurity competitions is what led him into this job.
He has no intentions of pursuing a master’s degree since in his line of work much of what he would study would quickly become antiquated. Instead, it’s more beneficial to keep certifications up to date.
Riley-Jewell recommends that students considering pursuing cybersecurity focus less on their grade-point average, and more on networking skills. Besides a degree and relevant certificates, employers are looking for those who are “highly-motivated and very professional, courteous and social.”
“If you can push yourself socially a little bit, it will open up a lot more doors,” he added.
Learn more about Laurel Ridge’s cybersecurity program at laurelridge.edu/cybersecurity.
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.