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“A great deal of my inspiration and motivation comes from pain”- Christine Izuakor

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Christine Izuakor is a Senior Security Analyst at United Airlines

Christine Izuakor is a Senior Security Analyst at United Airlines. In this role, she is responsible for managing numerous security functions from network vulnerability management to negotiating legal aspects of data security for contracts across the enterprise.

Christine earned a Ph.D. in security engineering from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, becoming the youngest and first African American woman to do so at the university. She is also the co-founder and Vice President of Gen Trend, United Airlines’ Millennial business resource group; a business resource group within United Airlines. The organizations mission is to attract, engage, and retain the next generation of aviation employees and customers.

Childhood
From childhood to adulthood, education has always been an integral part of my upbringing. In the 80’s both of my parents came to America from Nigeria to pursue higher education and new opportunities. It was natural that education was such a huge priority; so much so that I didn’t even know that attending university was “optional” until I was graduating from high school and saw some people in my school choosing not to go. I am very thankful that my parents raised me in this way because it’s cultivated a true passion for continuous learning and made me the person I am today.

Meet Me
Christine Izuakor is a Senior Security Analyst at United Airlines. In this role, she is responsible for managing numerous security functions from network vulnerability management to negotiating legal aspects of data security for contracts across the enterprise.

Christine earned a Ph.D. in security engineering from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, becoming the youngest and first African American woman to do so at the university. Her research focuses on critical infrastructure security and has been published in several international journals, including the International Journal of Critical Infrastructure Protection. Her original contributions to the security industry have also been presented in international conferences from Washington, DC to Rome, Italy. Christine also completed a master’s degree in information systems security from University of Houston in 2012 and is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP).

Dr. Izuakor is also active in the diversity and inclusion community. She is a co-founder and the Vice President of Gen Trend, United Airlines’ Millennial business resource group, serves as the Head Editor of the Illinois Diversity Council Editorial Board, is a member of the National Diversity Council Newsletter Committee, and volunteers as a cyber-security mentor with Year Up.

A first generation Nigerian in America, native Houstonian, and Chicago resident, Christine appreciates traveling and learning about different cultures. How I feel about being the first African-American and youngest to complete my PHD at the age of 27 in my university.

It feels very exciting! We all know about the shortage of women in both STEM and cyber security. I am just glad to not only have studied a topic that I am very passionate about, but to also act as an example for other women and minorities who don’t see this as a traditional career option. I also feel a sense of pride and extreme gratitude when I think about where I started and the many sacrifices that my parents made to enable such an accomplishment.

Inspiration behind Gen Trend, United millenial business resource group
Gen Trend is a business resource group within United Airlines. The organizations mission is to attract, engage, and retain the next generation of aviation employees and customers. The work started with a core research team that I was leading back in 2012 to better understand the evolution of the work force and trends across generations, with specific attention to Millennials. I am very intrigued by generational challenges and felt inspired to find creative ways to address them. The work has since evolved, with the significant contributions of the other co-founders, United leaders, and the board, into the great organization it is today. In my role as the Vice President, I, in collaboration with the President, effectively led a collaborative team effort to translate ideas and priorities from numerous stakeholders into a 2017 strategy that aligned with the values and mission of the business resource group and company. Alongside 7 phenomenal leaders that make up our board, we are currently executing on that strategy and can’t wait to see how we will influence the future of the company.

How I cope with being a mentor, volunteer and head editor among several other caps I wear
Time management has been a tremendous skill set that I’ve developed over several years. During my academic journey, I always worked full-time and engaged in many other charity and leisurely activities as well. I still maintained relationships and friends. I still made time for plenty of rest. Being able to make the most of every single minute has been extremely important. I plan every day out, including transition times. More specifically, every few hours I create tasks lists, and then I cross things out as I go so that I know how I’m progressing. I also often reprioritize the lists several times throughout the day. If I find myself procrastinating, I have learned to call myself out on it as well. To paint a picture of what my typical week looked like last year: On weekdays, I would work my 8 hour day…come home and eat dinner, and then go straight to library or Starbucks to do school work for 3-5 hours, often times until they closed. This still left me with 8-10 hours to sleep and rest each day. Then, I always tried to keep my weekends open to travel, socialize, rest, do charity work and take care of everything else.

What and who inspires me
A great deal of my inspiration and motivation comes from pain. There are certain struggles I remember from childhood that I simply don’t want to experience again, and so I work very hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. I also draw inspiration from many different people and platforms, so I don’t really specific role models. I look for people who have made it where I am trying to go, study their journeys, and use their lessons to create my own path and inspire my own journey. I also follow different inspirational pages and powerful multi-faceted women profiles on Instagram for inspiration. A few people I draw quite a bit of inspiration from include Michelle Obama, Sharon Grant, my family, Onika Maraj, and a young woman I recently met through Year Up, Symone Latham-Dior

Projects and activities
One of my favorite activities is travel. I have a goal to visit 30 countries before I turn 30 years old lol. So far, I have been to 22 countries. From exploring the rich Asian cultures of Japan and China, to the pure and scenic country sides of Switzerland and Ireland, and back to the relaxing beaches of Mexico and Dominican Republic, I learn so much about myself and this world through travel. A few future places on my list include Iceland, Australia, Brazil, Greece, and South Africa.

Greatest reward
The greatest reward that I’ve gotten is in being able to inspire people to want and pursue more in life. I like that people see my story and think of greater possibilities for themselves. I believe that’s my greater calling (to inspire) and it’s what gives me the most joy. People I’ve never met or even spoken to before often reach out to me with messages saying, “watching you makes me want to try harder and not give up” or “because of you I’ve decided to go back to school”. Those are the greatest rewards to me. I feel like by just being the best me that I can be, I am also influencing others to be their best selves. I think that’s very important to emphasize. I am not encouraging anyone to be me, or do what I did. I want people to just be great, whatever that means to them.

Challenges
A blessing and a curse for me is my ambition. Some people see it and love it, but some people also view it as a lack of direction or focus. I have had people learn of what I am doing and tell me “I can’t give you this opportunity because you don’t have the time to commit with everything else you are doing.” The truth is, that’s my call to make.

How can someone else make decisions about my own time? I know what I am capable, and one of my strengths is in managing my time and reprioritizing. Unfortunately, some people assume they know my capacity by confusing it with their own. This can be very frustrating for someone who not only constantly dreams about accomplishing seemingly impossible things, but is always pursuing those dreams. In those moments, I have to remind myself again that as human beings we are always projecting. That person isn’t saying “You can’t manage all of these things.” They really mean, “Wow, if I were you I don’t know how I would manage all of these things.” I have taught myself to notice the difference.

I am a Woman Of Rubies
Crazy enough, I was literally told that I am a “rare gem” a few days ago by a very prominent and respected leader in my industry. Inside, I am still spazzing and in awe about that conversation, but I share that because it’s is exactly what a ruby is; a rare gem. I believe that I was described in that way because I am resilient. I fail fast and learn quickly. I am not perfect and I don’t always win, but I never give up.

I work hard and relentlessly towards my goals. I have never been one to wait for anything to fall into my lap. I take ownership of fulfilling my destiny and maximizing on my potential.

I am dedicated to uplifting others along the way. As I take advantage of the paths previous generations created for me, I try to create new paths for future generations as well. When I leave this world, I want my legacy to live on through the success and realized potential of others throughout the world.
Final word for women all over the world

I’ll touch on a point I made in a previous interview: “Too often we, especially women, fear failure, what people will think, or not having all of the right answers. I think that inhibits our ability to dream beyond what those before us have done. Many instead get stuck in doing what’s ‘expected’ of us from parents, society, our cultures, etc. Those elements are important to acknowledge and honor, but can sometimes be limiting in today’s world.”

Instead, be curious. Don’t be afraid to question the way things have been done. Don’t be afraid to question the way people think. If your friends aren’t challenging you to consider different perspectives and outlooks, find new friends or explore new circles. It is questioning our norms that allows barriers to be overcome, ceilings to be shattered, and records to be broken. Questioning even my own way of thinking, has enabled me to break barriers and do things I didn’t know were possible; even when I didn’t have another role model or example to follow.



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