SAP partnership supports Penn State Brandywine women in cybersecurity

A female students stands in front of a research poster.

Himani Vommi graduated in May with a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity analytics and operations. She was able to conduct research and present at conferences through Penn State Brandywine's partnership with SAP.

Credit: Himani Vommi

MEDIA, Pa. — Since 2018, Penn State Brandywine has been partnering with SAP, a world-leading software production company, to host the SAP-designated Next-Gen Lab.

This collaboration has provided Brandywine students with the opportunity to enhance their innovation and creativity through conducting research, attending conferences and gaining access to exclusive online resources.

Many students — several of whom are women — have taken advantage of these resources during their time at Penn State Brandywine. Students Himani Vommi, Margaret Reynolds and Akaylah Swingle are among those who have used such resources and have conducted their own research at Brandywine under the SAP Next-Gen Lab.

This summer, the funding provided through the SAP partnership has allowed students to conduct research within two areas of focus. One group is currently focusing on industry software and the other on SAP-specific security challenges.

Current students Reynolds and Swingle are both actively working on SAP research. Both women shared how their Brandywine courses have assisted them when conducting their research and allowed them to strengthen their comprehension of cybersecurity material.

Swingle described her research for SAP as “great” and expressed her gratitude for the opportunities provided to her by Penn State Brandywine.

“I feel like Penn State Brandywine definitely does a good job in introducing you to certain people and giving you the best possible chance of making it out in the field,” Swingle, a third-year cybersecurity analytics and operations major, said. “I feel like if I went somewhere else, I wouldn't really get the same opportunities, or just the same experience.”

Swingle also shared how she has appreciated the “hands-on” aspect of her research as it has allowed her to improve in not only her technical skills but writing abilities as well. She also adds how these learned skills now assist her in her current internship, giving her confidence and stability within the cybersecurity field.

“If we’re the future, and we’re the students of the future, the more we know, the more we’re going to help the generations behind us.”

—Margaret Reynolds , Penn State Brandywine student

Reynolds, a fourth-year cybersecurity analytics and operations major, is also involved in SAP-funded research this summer, serving as a team leader. She stated that her group has had access to several resources that have assisted them during the research process. Reynolds also added how the research she’s completed has “opened her eyes” to the fast-paced nature of the cybersecurity industry, as well as allowed her to connect her in-class learning to her own work.

Vommi, a 2022 Penn State graduate in cybersecurity analytics and operations, conducted her own research during her time at Brandywine as well. Vommi said that having the “leverage” of her own research results — and thesis as an honors college scholar — has helped her connect with professional companies and even lead her to present her work at conferences.

Vommi had the opportunity to virtually present at ExploitCon Spokane in April 2022 with her talk titled “Things Are Not What They ‘Siem’: The Dangers of Apt Against Machine Learning.” According to the ExploitCon website, it’s a “national conference that focuses on providing attendees with technical information from industry experts in order to educate the IT community on advancements in cyber security and information technology."

“I've been working with the student affairs department at Brandywine to help some of our students attend conferences, which have been some of the coolest experiences I've had as a student,” Vommi said.

Swingle also had the opportunity to present on the Colonial Pipeline Ransomware Attack at an undergraduate research conference. She shared how the preparation required for the presentation allowed her to not only learn more about the topic, but to understand in greater detail the importance of cybersecurity in a business environment.

“That was very cool to be a part of, just to be able to present that information,” Swingle said.

Vommi explained how simple it was for her and fellow students to have access to these conferences through the partnership with SAP.

“All we had to do was just apply and say 'this is what we're trying to go to, this is how we think it’ll enrich our student lives and our experiences as cybersecurity students,' and they covered the whole thing, which I am eternally grateful for,” Vommi said.

Reynolds also shared high regards for her experiences at the cybersecurity conferences funded through the SAP partnership. Just a few of these conferences included the Mandiant Cyber Defense Summit and the TechNet Cyber Conference. Reynolds added these were some of the first cyber conferences she had ever been to.

“It's just exciting being in a room where you're like, ‘this is literally the future’,” Reynolds said regarding the conferences.

She also said she enjoyed being able to meet and listen to individuals from a variety of businesses she’s interested in. Reynolds added the conference experiences helped her to develop her “people skills” and make connections with professionals in the cybersecurity industry.

Vommi shared a similar sentiment, saying she even met some Penn State alumni in top positions at the companies in attendance at the conferences. She said it was “really great” having the opportunity to make these “neat connections,” as well as gain “real world perspective” regarding cybersecurity.

“There are real companies that use these tools that we’re using in our labs to do these things,” Vommi said. “[It] adds value to what I'm doing and helps me understand these are the different avenues that I can take my degree.”

Through additional resources funded through the SAP partnership, these women can continue to make connections to professionals within the cybersecurity industry. One such resource is student membership in Women in Cybersecurity (WiCys), an online resource which promotes the recruitment, retention and advancement of women in cybersecurity, according to its website.

Reynolds describes WiCys as “LinkedIn but for women in cybersecurity.” She says that with resources like these, “there’s no downside and you’re learning more.”

“If we’re the future, and we’re the students of the future, the more we know, the more we’re going to help the generations behind us,” Reynolds said regarding resources funded through the SAP partnership. "That just overall helps society, so why wouldn't you [learn more]?”

Reynolds and Swingle both shared excitement for the opportunities the SAP partnership provides for Penn State Brandywine. Both look forward to continuing to do research for the company if the opportunity presents itself.

Now graduated and working as a software engineer at Lockheed Martin, Vommi positively reflects on her time at Penn State Brandywine and the experiences she had there, which she doesn’t believe she would have had anywhere else. She also expressed much gratitude for the support she received from her professors and staff.

“My years at Brandywine have become so meaningful to me and it’s really helped me take my path, both professionally and as an individual, to the next level,” Vommi said. “I made a lot of really good connections here and I hope to be someone who can be that source of inspiration or mentoring as someone else has done for me.”

Penn State Brandywine’s cybersecurity analytics and operations degree is designed to prepare students to protect digital information from attack through cyber-defense strategies. This bachelor of science degree has a foundation in mathematics and computer programming and has students learn to recognize, analyze, defend against and manage risks related to a wide range of threats to online information, data stores and networks.

Penn State Brandywine is one of Penn State's 20 Commonwealth Campuses across the state. Brandywine upholds the University’s land-grant mission of excellence in teaching, research and outreach by creating partnerships with business and industry, community and civic, and K-12 and higher education organizations to create a positive impact on its community.