Cal State San Bernardino students Lizette Velazquez and John Lane not only graduated with degrees in cybersecurity, but have also been named the Jack H. Brown College of Business and Public Administration’s 2022-23 Outstanding Students.

Velazquez, a dual graduate student earned her Master of Science in Entrepreneurship and Innovation (MSEI) and MBA in cybersecurity, is the college’s Outstanding Graduate Student, while Lane, earned his bachelor of science in information systems and technology with a concentration in cybersecurity, is the Outstanding Undergraduate Student. Both were recognized at the college’s Commencement ceremony on May 20.

Velazquez’s goal is to become a technology and cybersecurity entrepreneur, and says that her CSUSB education has prepared her for this path.

“During my graduate studies at CSUSB, I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to be a dual graduate student and to choose degrees that could help me develop professionally,” she said. “My decision to pursue a degree in entrepreneurship was driven by a desire to gain vast business skills. Entrepreneurship is a complex and multifaceted discipline that is much more than just starting a business, and the skills and mindset that I have developed through my degree are transferrable to any position, whether as an entrepreneur or an intrapreneur.”

As part of her graduate degree program, she conducted extensive research in entrepreneurial innovation, with a focus on deep tech commercialization and cybersecurity. She conducted projects and collaborated with fellow entrepreneurship students, professors and industry professionals to gain practical insights and experience in tech transfer, which involves identifying and commercializing innovative technologies developed by federal labs, academic and research institutions.

“I have also conducted research and acquired a broad understanding of the various cybersecurity risks and challenges faced by startups and established businesses, and I have explored various strategies and best practices to mitigate these risks,” she said.

Velazquez credits Zachary Taylor, lecturer of information and decision sciences; Vincent Nestler, associate professor of information and decision sciences; Mike Stull, professor and director in the School of Entrepreneurship; Steve Abbott, full-time lecturer in the School of Entrepreneurship; and Mitch Morris, adjunct professor in the School of Entrepreneurship, as her mentors.

“Going through this graduate program has allowed me the privilege of having multiple mentors that have not only provided me with guidance and knowledge but have also played a critical role in my personal development,” she said. “I wholeheartedly appreciate each one of them.”

She also appreciates her family who continues to serve as her biggest inspiration.

“They have instilled in me the values of hard work, perseverance and resilience,” said Velazquez, who is a first-generation student. “I am grateful for their unwavering support and guidance.”

She also credits CSUSB for playing a critical role in helping her define her future, with one of her biggest accomplishments involving her and a team of fellow CSUSB students. She and her team participated in the Sunstone CSU Startup Launch competition held at San Jose State University.

“It was a challenging event where my startup team and I competed against 17 other highly competitive CSU campuses and our team won first place in the Product Track 1 category,” she said. “This was an amazing accomplishment and it is a testament to the hard work and dedication exhibited by our team.”

Lane chose information systems and technology with a concentration in cybersecurity due to his passion for problem-solving and thriving in challenging environments.

My major was a perfect fit because the interdisciplinary nature allowed me to build and reinforce skills in areas of interest such as technology, business and law,” he explained. “Cybersecurity is a rapidly growing field, and I recognized the potential to contribute my knowledge and skills to developing solutions for the future.”

The accomplishment he is most proud of is creating a campus partnership with CodePath to bring an advanced, hands-on cybersecurity course to campus.

“Making an impact on my fellow students through teaching and tutoring has been one of the highlights of my educational journey,” said Lane, who credits Vincent Nestler as his biggest mentor.

“Dr. Vincent Nestler has been a constant source of guidance and countless opportunities,” he said. “He encouraged me to challenge myself and be a leader amongst my peers, helping me to excel both academically and personally.”

While he has excelled throughout his undergraduate journey, achieving his educational goals has been challenging. Lane graduated high school at 16 while living in a shelter as a ward of the state. After high school, he found an apprenticeship and began a professional career as a chef, eventually earning an Associate of Applied Sciences in Culinary Arts.

“I had planned to go back to school to complete an undergraduate degree after working and saving for a couple of years. However, these plans were derailed when I suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm at 22,” he said. “The subsequent recovery and medical bills made it seem impossible to pursue my dreams of higher education.”

After years of hard work and recovery, he was determined to pursue his dreams once again.

“Only then did I truly begin to understand just how difficult this would be after a traumatic brain injury. My brain did not function the way it used to; I had to relearn so much material and develop new strategies to succeed,” he said. “Luckily, I met many amazing professors, counselors and students throughout my journey who helped me navigate the path to success.”

Lane credits his grandparents for being his greatest inspiration, noting that they have been exceptional role models in their personal and professional lives. While his grandfather has since passed, he has held a special bond with his grandmother. In fact, she was the first person he told when he decided to pursue his undergraduate degree.

“My grandfather was an excellent neurosurgeon, who opened the first neurosurgery practice in the Cleveland area after gaining extensive surgical experience while serving in the U.S. Army,” he explained.  “Talking through this experience with my grandmother during my recovery helped strengthen our bond.”

Unfortunately, when Lane was on his way to represent CSUSB at the Western Regional finals for the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, he found out that his grandmother was going in hospice.

While Lane is proud to be graduating, he is calling the moment bittersweet since he cannot share it with his grandmother.

“In our last conversation, I told her about my graduation plans and receiving the Outstanding Undergraduate Award and got to hear her say how proud she was one last time,” Lane said. “I would like to dedicate this award to her.”