Published Monday Apr 30, 2018
When Amela Gjishti came to Tennessee Tech as an exchange student from the country of Albania in January 2016, she could not have predicted that on May 5, 2018, she would be graduating with a degree in computer science from Tech and a job in cybersecurity waiting for her. In fact, she didn’t even know what cybersecurity was.
“I picked Tennessee Tech randomly because I thought I was just going to be here for one semester,” Gjishti said. “I was lucky to have met Dr. Ambareen Siraj my first week at Tech. I went into her office, and she started talking to me about cybersecurity, and I had no information about cybersecurity. We don’t do that back home.”
Gjishti was a computer science major already, but her interest was in data science. When Siraj introduced her to cybersecurity, she knew she had found something special.
Siraj is the director of Tech’s Cybersecurity Education, Research and Outreach Center and the founder of the national Women in Cybersecurity conference. She organizes camps and outreach programs in cybersecurity and has a passion for recruiting women in the field. The more Gjishti learned about Siraj’s work, the more interested she became.
“All of the analytical skills that I possess, you can apply that to cybersecurity, and in cybersecurity, you can do almost anything,” Gjishti said. “It was cool. It is all about analysis and puzzles and thinking.”
Within a couple of months of arriving at Tech, Gjishti extended her exchange to a year and ultimately, with the support and urging of her family, she transferred completely to Tech to study with Siraj.
“This is the best decision I have made in my life, because it has brought me to so many new opportunities that I would definitely not have the chance to even dream about when I was home,” Gjishti said. “When I go back to think about where I came from and who I was, I feel very grateful that I have been here and met so many great people who have mentored me to take the right steps and have always lead me to make the right decisions.”
While in the computer science department at Tech, Gjishti was introduced to the CyberEagles student organization and was a founding member of CyberEaglesW, a chapter of the organization designed to encourage and recruit females in the field. She has also been involved in other outreach programs through CEROC and found her passion within the field of cybersecurity: social engineering. Social engineering involves gathering information about people for the purpose of understanding or exploiting a computer system.
“It is true that I am a computer science major, but I really like talking to people,” Gjishti said. “With social engineering, I can apply those skills to something that I enjoy doing.”
Since arriving at Tech, Gjishti has attended three Women in Cybersecurity conferences with Siraj. At one of those, she secured an internship.
“This was a turning point for me that is allowing me to stay in cybersecurity because I got an internship with Bank of America,” Gjishti said. “Last summer, I was in Chicago working for the Bank of America security team. By the end of the summer they offered me a job to return and work for them after I graduate.”
After earning her degree Saturday, she will be headed to Chicago to begin her career, and people who are very important to her will be in the crowd at commencement to cheer her on. Her mother, father and sister are making their first trip to the United States to see her earn her diploma.
“For my family, it was not an easy decision to let me go so far away, across the ocean,” Gjishti said. “They saw the amount of opportunities, and they saw the potential that I had and that I could learn and develop myself much more in America than I could back home. It is all about the opportunities and all about the people that I found at Tennessee Tech that I could not find at home.”
Commencement won’t be the last time Gjishti’s younger sister finds herself at Tech either. The family has been so impressed with Amela’s experience that her sister is enrolling as a freshman at Tech as well.
Amela says she will miss all of the friends and relationships she has built at Tech, especially Tech sociology professor Ada Haynes who was her “host momma” during her exchange and the “very good” friends she has made, but she is also confident in the direction she is headed.
“The whole computer science department has taught me so much and given me the confidence to go into the field,” Gjishti said. “I also have a lot of very good and kind people here at Tennessee Tech who encourage me to go further and further.”
Gjishti will be among graduates at Tech’s Saturday, May 5 commencement ceremonies. With morning ceremonies including students from the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Engineering, the College of Interdisciplinary Studies, the Whitson-Hester School of Nursing and graduate students from each area at 9:30 a.m. An afternoon ceremony beginning at 2 p.m. will recognize graduates in the College of Agriculture and Human Ecology, the College of Business, the College of Education and the College of Fine Arts.
For more information, visit www.tntech.edu/commencement.