Joshua Meppiel was just 6 years old when he got his first computer – a RadioShack Rs 90 in the 1980s.
He loved it.
“I’ve always been a geek playing around with computers,” Meppiel said. “I played around with writing programs and basic on it. Then in my teenage years in the ’90s, I built gaming PCs for friends. We played a lot of video games. So I’ve always been interested in it. It was just a matter of where would I do that? Where would I apply that interest?”
Meppiel has been applying his interest and skills in information systems professionally for nearly 20 years, and he is now pursuing his master’s degree in computer science with an emphasis in artificial intelligence and cybersecurity at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.
Last week, he was one of four students awarded a $2,500 U.S. Bank Cybersecurity Scholarship in recognition of his academic achievements. Bridget Blake, Amir Esmaeli and Andrew Miller were the other honorees.
This is the sixth year U.S. Bank has granted scholarships to cybersecurity students at UMSL. Neil Rose, the business information security officer lead at U.S. Bank, presented the scholarships last Friday in a ceremony held in Anheuser-Busch Hall.
“At U.S. Bank, we focus our community investments on where we can have the most impact as a financial services institution,” said Tim Held, chief information security officer at U.S. Bank. “For us, we believe college and career readiness is one of those areas, and we are glad to invest in the next generation of cybersecurity professionals. We’re excited to see the thoughtfulness UMSL is taking to make sure their recent graduates are well prepared to help secure information and data in the fast-paced business environment of today.”
Meppiel works full-time as a senior systems architect specializing in API management. He wanted to get his master’s degree and found that UMSL offered the flexibility he needed.
“They allowed me to continue doing my education while working,” he said. “I’m working a full-time job, and I’m a dad. Trying to balance your professional life and your personal life along with academia is a difficult task, and UMSL was one of the few schools that offers all of their classes as online and evening offerings.”
For Meppiel, receiving the scholarship served as confirmation that he’s on the right professional track.
“It’s pretty exciting,” he said. “It validates my efforts to get the cybersecurity certificate and a degree on that path, and it means that I should just keep pushing myself in that direction.”
Blake is pursuing a master’s in cybersecurity with an emphasis in information systems and technology after getting a bachelor’s in psychology with an emphasis in forensic psychology from Texas State University in 2016. When working as an executive assistant and communicating closely with the IT department, she became interested in the industry and decided to go back to school.
“I realized IT was a really great field to get experience in and get an education in because it’s going to be needed, the longer that we’re putting things online and the more that the world is changing with everything being online,” she said. “I knew that it would be a secure field and really difficult to learn and then really fun.”
After researching universities, Blake chose UMSL after learning about the strong reputation of its cybersecurity program.
She was elated to receive the scholarship, particularly since it was unexpected.
“Oh, it’s amazing to even be considered,” she said. “I was so lucky. I’ve never received a scholarship before.”
Looking ahead, Blake hopes to secure a summer internship to gain work experience. One of the companies she’s set her sights on is Spotify.
Esmaeli is getting his PhD in computer science and researching computer networks and security and investigation on new generations of networks. He has a bachelor’s in computer architecture and a master’s in computer network from Tehran Polytechnic in Iran. With 10 years of experience as a network security engineer, he is pursuing his degree to further his skills and career.
Esmaeli researched UMSL professors and found them to be impressive, swaying his decision to pursue his PhD at the university. Since he began his studies, his experience has confirmed that he made the right choice.
“The faculty members in our department are very smart,” he said. “They’re really patient and very helpful. Because of this system and environment, I chose UMSL.”
Esmaeli has enjoyed working with computers since he was young.
“I chose my field of study from my childhood when I was in high school,” Esmaeli said. “I love computer networks and network security and ethical hacking.”
Receiving the scholarship takes some financial pressure off and allows him to focus more on his studies.
Future plans for Esmaeli include wanting to work at an “enterprise company” such as Google, Apple or Cisco. An alternative would be to teach.
Miller is a junior majoring in information systems and technology with a minor in cybersecurity. Flexibility also played a big part in why he chose to pursue his degree at UMSL.
“Being able to take all my classes online, especially in a program that’s as in depth as IT, really appealed to me,” Miller said. “I don’t really think I was going to go anywhere else.”
Validation also came to mind when he learned he received the scholarship.
“It’s very humbling,” he said. “When we got the email saying that we had won, it was not something I think any of us expected. But it sort of validates the fact that we are exceeding at UMSL. It’s a reminder that what you’re learning is more than just your grades. It’s something that will actually help you. It’ll help your career.”
Miller also plans on getting a summer internship with the hopes of gaining more experience. Miller’s ideal role would be to serve as a project manager helping companies transition to newer technologies and more modern, secure and cost-effective practices.
All of the scholarship recipients were grateful and surprised to be chosen. The generous gift seemed to enhance their experience at UMSL. At the ceremony, Blake was able to connect with some of her professors in person and thank them for their instruction and assistance.
“It’s been so fun,” she said. “I’ve met three of my four professors today because it’s all online. Everyone has been so kind. I really like being here.”