A Reflection On Our Cyber Symposium

“There’s not a single person in here that has the answers to all the problems we’re facing… The reason why [this symposium] is important is to emphasize the fact that we’re in this together.” said Senator Patrick Leahy, speaking to a hundred cyber symposium-goers.

“’How many times have we sat around your kitchen table talking about Champlain discussing the potential?’” he later said.

To end our symposium, we took a group photo with the Senator

Group photo with the Senator!

Cyber Symposium Part I: Champlain Legends Share Their Cyber Experience

The panel just before Leahy took the stage featured the head of Champlain College online, the ITS Career Coach, William Swearingin and Joey Taubert, two Leahy Center alumni, and last, but most definitely not least Zoltan Sachs, head of Professional Services at the Leahy Center.

An audience member had a question for Zoltan and the two alumni. “Based on your work, what is the best way to improve security and reduce risk within an organization?”

“Yeah,” began Swearingin, “so the best way we’ve found—and this is universal for almost every client we’ve had so far—is really to improve training of employees and staff. It’s, I believe, 88% of data breaches that are caused by human error. You can have the best [security systems in the world], but if someone plugs a malicious USB into a computer that’s not properly secured, it’s over.”

“Adding to that,” added Taubert, “a great tool is internal phishing campaigns… [they] can really show you where, maybe you have some weaknesses in training, and [it can help you] assign that training more specifically. Also, [another] big takeaway [from] our experience is that the organizations that we engage with have not really had a previous assessment, and that’s just a big first step we take to secure your environment.”

“Yeah, and there’s a huge need out there,” Zoltan continued. “Especially smaller organizations don’t know where to start. And what we found is, when we do engage, [students are] very candid about their answers… a professional organization [will go] in, and they may be more guarded about their answers [than us]. We find things both from the control side, and the vulnerability side.”

Scott Stevens, dean of Champlain’s ITS division, also pitched in. “Can you tell us about the Leahy Center Professional Services… and the types of services provided by the Leahy Center?”

“Perfect, thanks Scott. So our Professional Services are really one component of securing Vermont and Vermont organizations and, people sitting in this audience are really the other part… Specifically Professional Services at Champlain, we offer cybersecurity risk assessments and mitigation. We provide digital forensics services, so, you hand us a laptop and say ‘go get it, what’s in there, go find it and assess it.’ We also provide security risk mitigation for monitoring and response; so we go beyond the malware that you might have installed on endpoints. And then, finally we do IT services, so we install things like firewalls to secure organizations more.”

“We are also the low-cost or no-cost alternative—and we’ll talk more about the no-cost alternative.”

Thirteen years ago, Leahy raised over a million dollars in grant funding. Back when the bootleg Leahy Center was called “Champlain College Center for Digital Investigation,” Leahy raised over a million dollars in grant funding for us. He invested in the next generation of cybersecurity pros. And, about a year ago, he doubled down.

“Once again, [Leahy] got us funding, [from] the Byrne grant, and what I want to do real quick is I want to read directly from the grant:

‘Champlain College’s Leahy Center would use this funding to work with state lines and local organizations such as municipalities, schools, nonprofits, and small businesses with the mission of reducing their risk of data breaches and exposure to cyber threats,’ and this is the key part, ‘while also training the next generation of cybersecurity professionals.’

So this three year grant can provide funding for an initial risk assessment and one year of complimentary services from the Leahy Center.”

Leahy’s grant summoned a round of applause.

“Talk about a guy that’s with you for the long haul,” said Zoltan.

Cyber Symposium Part II: Leahy Takes The Stage

After their panel, President Hernandez stepped up to introduce the Senator. It’s not an exaggeration to say he had tears of pride in his eyes.

“Because of you, our students have earned over one and a half million dollars through internships. Because of you, the Leahy Center exposes Vermont students to cybersecurity projects.”

His voice shook as he said, “The Leahy Center for Digital Forensics and Cybersecurity is one of the most innovative examples of workforce development in the United States. And I would say that even if I was not the president of Champlain College.”

“Don’t take it from me. Our employers say it. ‘The number one differentiator is the real-world experience you get through the Leahy Center and your internship.’ This is a huge reason why our students are Champlain ready.”

Because of Leahy’s long-term commitment, Champlain is now one of the top cybersecurity programs in the country. It’s the best place in the world for women to study cybersecurity and digital forensics.

You could hear the President’s glee as he thanked the senator for shaping the future of the college.

“Friends, please welcome… Senator Patrick Leahy.”

Leahy’s speech was a celebration of how far we’ve come. He cracked a few jokes. See, he loathed the seniority system in the Senate when he was younger, but it only got better with age.

He also shared his pride for the LC, particularly for their CyberRange program.

“[We use] your CyberRange for training law enforcement officers. I’m proud of you for that!”

The Senator has always been ahead of his time. He was once one of the first two senators to start a website. He said everyone called him crazy at the time. But clearly, Leahy has a fortune-telling eye. Based on his cyber symposium appearance, and his repeated investments in the Leahy Center, cybersecurity is key to the future.

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Written by:
Briar Gagne ’26 // Professional Writing

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