Four years ago, Gabriel Horton was a senior at Richmond County Technical Career Magnet School, thinking he was headed to Augusta University to study computer science.
Today, Horton is preparing to walk across the stage, receive his cybersecurity diploma and begin a summer internship with NASA.
“At Richmond County Technical Career Magnet School, we had networking, cybersecurity, culinary and audio and visual pathways. It is a school that focuses on STEM courses,” Horton said. “At the time, I wasn’t interested in cyber. I wanted to be a computer scientist, but that all changed when I got to Augusta University.”
Horton enrolled in a cyber class taught by Ahmed Aleroud, PhD, an associate professor in the School of Computer and Cyber Sciences.
“We started doing pen testing,” Horton said, explaining that pen testing, otherwise known as penetration testing, is an exercise where cybersecurity experts attempt to find and exploit vulnerabilities in a computer system to identify weak spots in its defenses. “I immediately thought, ‘Wow. This is very fun. I could really get into this.’ From then on, I knew cyber was my new career path. I’ll be interning with NASA this summer, so it’s been an incredible journey.”
Horton said the School of Computer and Cyber Sciences at Augusta University thoroughly prepares students for a future career by ensuring they have proper internships along the way.
“This past summer, I was a student intern with information technology at Army Cyber Command and did things like help simulate an attack to test if the Cyber Cadets can secure a network from hackers, criminal organizations and an advanced persistent threat,” Horton said. “That internship was for 10 weeks.”
But for the past seven months, Horton has been interning with the United States Secret Service.
“With the United States Secret Service, I’m doing open-source intelligence,” Horton said. “At NASA, I’ll be doing the same thing that I’m currently doing with the Secret Service.”
At Augusta University, Horton has been active as an undergraduate research assistant and member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, Upsilon Pi Epsilon International Honor Society for the Computer and Information Disciplines, Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society, The National Society of Leadership and Success, The Society for Collegiate Leadership and Achievement and Club de Español.
Horton was also one of seven students at Augusta University selected in 2021 as part of the inaugural cohort of the federal CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program.
This program, which was sponsored by a $3.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, is dedicated to recruiting and training the next generation of cybersecurity professionals by providing scholarships for up to three years of support for cybersecurity education at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Following his summer internship with NASA, Horton plans to return to Augusta University to join the Master of Science in Information Security Management program.
“I just know I want to get my master’s degree after I graduate, but from there, I am still not sure,” he said. “I will probably work with the Army or Savannah River National Laboratory, or possibly continue with the United States Secret Service. Cyber is such a broad field with so many opportunities.”
But, first, Horton is looking forward to his parents and his older brother, an alumnus of Augusta University, watching him accept his cybersecurity degree.
“My parents are so happy for me because I picked a degree that can pay my bills,” Horton said, laughing. “But I think they are even more pleased that I picked a career that I like and that I enjoy and that I will be able to support myself.”