As a kid growing up, like most kids I aspired to be like any professional athlete, musician, or artist. But as I got older I began to find the focal points of who I wanted to become. What I wanted to do with my life. And what I was interested in. As it turned out, without me even realizing it, those focal points were very heavily influenced by my parents. Now I don't mean in a "they told me what to do and I followed suit" kind of way. I was already into computers and cool technology growing up. They just made it seem cooler, which sparked my interest. I remember my dad taking computers apart and reassembling them in an effort to just teach me something cool. Something different, that I wouldn't see every day in school. My mom was always meeting cool and important people, especially in government and security. It's very rare exposure, especially as a young kid. But it sparked my interest and I was hooked. My parents worked for the government so I grew up never knowing what they actually did... and that made me even more interested! The secrecy, the curiosity, the freedom of imagination. They worked in cyber security. That's all I've ever really known. And it was enough for me.
As I got older, more so in my teenage years, my mother was swiftly moving up in the cyber security world. So much so, that she reached the highest level possible for a civilian in the Department of Defense. The she did what anyone who had exhausted all hierarchy would do. Leave. She then became the CIO of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Not only was she the first woman, but she was also the first African-American period, to hold such position. She's been deemed a renowned cyber security expert. She has been and continues to be featured on the radio, on tv, and in magazines for her expertise. And after taking a very early retirement after so much success, she's currently the Vice Dean of the Cyber Security & Information Assurance Department in the Graduate College at the University of Maryland University College. I aspire to make every accomplishment and reach the highest levels of whatever endeavors I pursue, the way she has. Whether in technology, basketball, family. Whatever. My mother, Dr. Emma Garrison-Alexander, has exemplified how a Black woman from a small town/area (Ripley, TN, just outside Memphis) can break all barriers and make waves in a very White and very male dominated field.
It's sort of cliche for a parent or family member to be a role model, but my mother has inspired me beyond what I could've imagined as a kid. The way I often explain it is: I want to be my mom, but better... if that is at all possible. It's already difficult enough to find someone that looks like me, let alone a woman, in STEM and in my specific field. I was fortunate enough to live with one.