Leaving home for the first time at 27, UTSA business student Turquoise Richardson traveled to Washington, D.C. this fall in the midst of the pandemic to intern with NASA’s Office of Inspector General as a technical investigator.
“My internship was on the verge of being cancelled, but they fought for me,” said Richardson, a senior who will graduate with her bachelor’s in cyber security this December. “I was their top choice out of 100 applicants, and the only intern chosen to work this fall. I worked four days a week in the lab and one day remotely. All of the other lab employees only work one day a week in the office now, so I shadowed a different person every day.”
Working in the Cyber Crime Division within the Office of the Inspector General, Richardson has learned how cases are processed and how they collect evidence. “I wanted to learn about the field of digital forensics and be a part of a team,” said Richardson, who graduated from Judson High School. “I did everything that the technical investigators were doing.”
While the pandemic slowed the typical pace of the office, Richardson didn’t mind because it allowed her to learn as much as she could from her colleagues. “Everybody here has been amazing,” she said. “If I ask a question or need help my colleagues respond.
“I’m grateful for the experience. I’m much more confident with the skill set that I gained as part of the college’s cyber security program.”
Richardson wasn’t always so confident about what she wanted to do with her life. She tried several other career paths, but chose cyber security because of UTSA’s No. 1 ranking as well as the outstanding career potential in that field. “I can turn my computer on and off, so I decided to give it a shot and see what else they could teach me.”
She began in the online cyber program, but soon changed to the residential program so she’d have greater access to the faculty, specialized programs and hands-on instruction. Unsure of what field she wanted to focus on, she soon found a passion for digital forensics.
“The professors were so engaging and helpful,” said Richardson. “Dr. Dampier and Dr. Mitra taught me the basics of digital forensics. Taking their Digital Forensic Analysis class was my light bulb moment. This is what I want to do. And, Dr. Beebe expanded on that in her Digital Forensic Analysis 2 course.”
Richardson shares that digital forensics is like a puzzle or a mystery novel. “Something has happened and as a technical investigator we are trying to solve that mystery,” she said. “You need to know who to talk to, what questions to ask, and you must keep digging until you can find all the pieces of that puzzle.”
While at UTSA she applied for and received the Scholarship for Service award, funded by a National Science Foundation grant. The program pays tuition and expenses for cyber security students. In exchange, participants must work for a federal agency upon graduation for a period equal to the length of the scholarship.
Finally finding where she belongs, Richardson plans to continue her education this spring as a graduate student in the college’s cyber security program.
“I never would have thought once the pandemic hit I would have seen and had these opportunities,” she said. “It was challenging in the best way possible. I’ve learned so much. I’m smarter than I led myself to believe.”