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Meet Wyatt Powell

Wyatt Powell is a local who knew he wanted to stay local for college. After graduating from Volunteer High School, Wyatt entered ETSU thinking his degree would reflect his hobbies –physics and math. Fearing future burnout, he was hesitant to align profession and pastime, but luckily, he stumbled upon computing through a friend. Now a senior, Wyatt continues to dive deeper into the profession. During the spring semester he tackled courses in the cybersecurity field while interning in IT Development at Eastman, a global specialty chemical company based in Kingsport. As he embraced cybersecurity and developed new interests in computer forensics and security assurance, Wyatt requested to work in cybersecurity this summer and was selected to intern under the direction of Dr. Michael Lehrfeld, who, in addition to working as a contractor at Eastman, is an associate professor of computing at ETSU.

The courses taught by Lehrfeld and colleagues in the Department of Computing are helping to shape a new concentration in Cybersecurity and Modern Networks based on sought-after knowledge and skills needed to protect digital resources. Wyatt is learning fundamentals from computing coursework at ETSU and applying them to real scenarios at a global corporation.

What interests you about the field of cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is the most dynamic part of computing as a whole, so the fact it is constantly changing means I can’t get complacent. It keeps me engaged. I can ethically be trying to show a fault in a system or trying to build up prevention and defense mechanisms against those threats. It’s the opportunity to do “good cop, bad cop” in your work, which I am really interested in. It’s really an engaging field of study. Wyatt Powell

You enrolled in some cybersecurity courses during the spring semester. Tell us about those courses, and how did that lead to an internship at Eastman?

Information assurance and computer forensics are two facets of a much greater picture – IT security. Anyone who uses an electronic device will generate data, so the computer forensics course was all about how to dig through the device to get that data, because in situations where law enforcement or employee malpractice is concerned, that data could be the turning point for an investigation.

Information security is a class that is part of a broader area – security assurance. As computing devices become a lot more common, we’ve learned to trust them a lot more and sometimes we do so without thinking about what’s happening on the back end. The course taught us what we need to watch out for and how we can protect data from “bad actors.”

I accepted a spur-of-moment internship in IT Development at Eastman during the spring semester. I started asking around about an opportunity in cybersecurity and they decided to keep me on as an intern for the summer in cybersecurity. The initial internship was a bit of dumb luck, but moving to cybersecurity was a result of my experience at ETSU.

Has your internship experience changed or solidified your career goals?

It’s done a bit of both. It’s showed me that cybersecurity is the most interesting of anything I’ve encountered so far, but computer science is a very big field and there are many different opportunities. I’ve always seen myself on the cutting edge, most innovative side of computing because I feel like that’s where my mindset would best be utilized. I have a habit of keeping up with other fields as well. Whether it’s the development of a new algorithm, an advancement in artificial intelligence, cloud infrastructure, a new device vulnerability, or quantum computing, I am interested in what is recent and what has the highest potential for making the human experience easier or more enjoyable.     

It (internship) has motived me to become a lot more personable. A while ago, I would not have been able to talk to others as concisely or clearly as I can now, and that’s just because while I have been here I have been made to talk to people. It’s part of the job description.

At some point I would like to complete a master’s degree and potentially get my Ph.D. The short-term goal is to gain experience, so I can market myself to potential employers as a valuable asset. I would like to eventually work with the federal government as part of the United States’ cyber-defense posture or with federal law enforcement to help acquire evidence and make a positive impact. When I am much older, I would like to teach what I have learned to the next generation on a collegiate level.       

What is a typical day like as a cybersecurity intern at Eastman?

The biggest part of my day is research. Since cybersecurity is such a big field, research is the most important element of any day. I will get assignments that require high-level thinking and I won’t always know the 13 things I need to do address the original request, so I have to find the best way to go about it. I collaborate a lot with my team members to discuss how to build the web of IT at Eastman. If I’m not researching or talking to others, then I am trying to do something to reach my daily goals.

How does your experience as an intern differ from the classroom?

At ETSU, it is a lot more structured because academics have to be in general so that we learn the fundamentals. The internship has helped me develop those fundamentals into actual skills that are applicable and useful. Instead of learning about encryption in a classroom, today I actually started developing an encryption system for logging protocols by implementing what I’ve learned in the classroom, taking those fundamentals and laying the groundwork for a system that will be beneficial to the company.   

What do you like most about ETSU?

The Department of Computing at ETSU is phenomenal. The classes vary in size, but nearly every professor I have encountered is more than willing to provide extra time and effort to make sure students are able to excel. The sense of community that most professors instill with their students is a very refreshing thing to see. The teachers I have had are definitely the best part of my experience at ETSU.

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