By Jonah Grinkewitz

Drew Brown’s educational journey at Old Dominion University inspired him to help others better their lives through learning.

Brown, a Navy veteran, will graduate this December with a master’s degree in cybersecurity. He also received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology from the University in 2021.

An opportunity with Norfolk Public Schools as an undergraduate helped Brown recognize his passion for showing younger people how to succeed through education. He served as a mentor for students competing in the Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot program which aims to direct students to careers in cybersecurity or other STEM fields.

“I remember at that age, I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Brown said. “The sooner you can help someone recognize what their interests are and how they can be a contributing member to society, the better.”

After high school, he joined the U.S. Navy and spent six years supporting Marines in an emergency medicine role. He left the military and came to ODU in 2016 to study mechanical engineering with a minor in cybersecurity.

As he was finishing up his degree, he learned about ODU’s Cyber LeADERS program, which provides two to three years of support to select students in exchange for service in the federal government for the same number of years. The support includes a full in-state tuition scholarship, an annual stipend ranging from $27,000 (for undergraduates) to $37,000 (for graduate students) and a professional development allowance.

“It’s a blessing,” Brown said. “Not many people have this opportunity to complete a master’s in this way”

He is currently interning with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, helping to mitigate cyber risks associated with land mobile radio technology. He said he is exploring his job options but hopes to find a role that helps educate people – whether that’s about how to improve their cybersecurity or how to advance their careers in the field.

“I think it’s important to support the curiosity in others and provide them with tools to answer their own questions,” Brown said.

Vukica Jovanovic, professor and chair of engineering technology at ODU, met Brown when they worked on a project together through the Office of Naval Research that taught military members how to use 3D printers. She watched him go on to mentor students in the CyberPatriot program.

“He has a great skill for inspiring others to follow his path,” she said.

After a 12-year journey from the Navy to graduating with two degrees from ODU, Brown said he looks for ways to give back and enable similar experiences for others.

“Time is more valuable than people recognize, especially in education. Giving students the time and attention to lead toward new information is crucial.”