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Embracing Fear and Hardship Leads to Cybersecurity Degree

Gil Klein
By Gil Klein
  • Commencement |
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Editor's Note: This profile is part of a series that features the stories of graduates whose outstanding journeys have culminated in a UMGC degree.

It was 1995 when Leticia Bledsoe, a military spouse living in Germany with her husband and two small children, started thinking about going back to school. She considered a nursing degree but, after witnessing a near-death incident, she feared she didn’t have the stomach for it. 

A friend suggested computers. If a computer dies, he joked, you won’t feel so bad. With an early affinity for numbers, she decided to pursue an associate degree in computer studies from University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), which was then known as University of Maryland University College.

In 2002, she walked across a commencement stage in Heidelberg, Germany, with her associate degree in hand. 

Soon after, Bledsoe divorced but remained overseas as a civilian contractor. Her work in IT support took her from Germany to positions in Italy, Afghanistan, Iraq, Djibouti, and Dubai. “My associate degree opened up many doors to IT positions and certifications,” she said. 

She returned to the United States in 2013 because of an injury that needed medical attention, and that’s when Bledsoe hit a critical juncture in her professional and personal life. 

While recovering in her hometown of San Antonio, Texas, her certifications expired, she discovered that her job in Afghanistan no longer existed and, worst of all, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. On top of it all, she found that transitioning from life overseas to life back in the United States was difficult. 

Two events changed her life. First, she started dancing, which became a great escape and creative outlet. “I joined a local studio and found that I really enjoyed performing,” she said. Second, COVID-19 appeared.

“When COVID hit in early 2020, I had to put dance on hold, but I decided to use that time in isolation to complete my bachelor’s degree,” she said. Pandemic isolation also prompted Bledsoe to join the Soka Gakkai International-USA Buddhist community’s military personnel group, which kept her morale up during the pandemic. 

Soon after, a UMGC advisor introduced her to cybersecurity. “I didn't know anything about cybersecurity at the time,” she said. “But then when I learned about hacking and all the possibilities of what can happen to our country, I realized that this is what I wanted to do to serve.” 

In October 2021, on a path toward a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity Technology, Bledsoe received an announcement about the Department of Defense Cyber Scholarship at UMGC. The DOD program is designed to prepare the agency’s workforce to deal with threats to its critical infrastructure. 

“I ignored the email at first, but then a friend encouraged me to apply,” Bledsoe said. “I submitted just before the February deadline and in April 2022 I learned that I was accepted.” 

Being a Cyber Scholar was key to Bledsoe’s pivot from IT services to a career in cybersecurity. Through the Cyber Scholar program, she became one of six students selected for positions at China Lake, the Naval Air Weapons Station in California that supports research, testing, and evaluation programs of the U.S. Navy. 

Now with her bachelor’s degree, and soon to embark on a new cybersecurity position at China Lake, Bledsoe has time to reflect on the rough spots along her trajectory. 

Her journey included homelessness as a teenager after her father lost his job and their house and the family had to travel to San Antonio, often sleeping in the car along the way. More recently, while caring for her aging parents, she experienced the deaths of her brother and sister. 

But fear, hardship, and challenges have also led Bledsoe to opportunity. “It’s OK to be afraid. Embrace it. Everyone is afraid,” she said. “But remember that you are paving your own way and that opportunities will open when you grow and start to see things differently.”