Defending Networks -- First Generation Series (3 of 4)

Cyber Defense.  Seems like something we only see in the movies or hear on the news.  Students at the University of Northern Iowa are honing their skills to combat real-life cyber attacks.  The UNI’s Cyber Defense Team came in 2nd place in the 2016 Argonne National Lab’s National Cyber Defense Competition near Chicago, Illinois.  Sheriff Jorkeh, a first generation college student, is a part of this successful team.

Sheriff is majoring Computer Science with an emphasis in Systems, which includes Networking and Systems Administration.  This is a unique program to UNI because it combines computer science and networking assistance.  It is hands on and gives students the opportunity to dive deeper into the fundamentals of computer systems.  Students who graduate with this degree can be network analysts or network engineers.

Originally from Liberia, Sheriff came to the United States to live in 2012.  He is the first member of his family to go to college.  He lives in Cedar Falls with his wife and two children, 4 and 2, while he attends UNI.

Sheriff started in the computer business when a training opportunity was presented to him after high school.  He completed training in computer service and repair and then started working in a friend’s business.  He also helped teach employees Microsoft Suite, Powerpoint, and Publisher.  Sheriff has been on the UNI campus since January of 2016 and so far his experience has been great.  He is currently the president of the Cedar Valley Linux User Group and a member of TRIO, Computer Club, and UNI’s Cyber Defense Team.  He also works at Western Home as a resident assistant.

As president of the Cedar Valley Linux User Group, Sheriff organizes meetings and looks for speakers or speaks himself on various Linux topics.  He assists in the organization of events on and off campus where the group sets up gaming on the Linux system just to have fun.  He would like to see the campus Linux group get more involved in the community and connect with Linux users off campus.

UNI 2016 Cyber Defense TeamUNI’s Cyber Defense Team’s purpose is to learn and practice responding to cyber-attacks.  During the competition at Argonne National Labs, the team was given a hypothetical situation of a simulated real-world cyber-attack scenario.  The team was given vulnerable system servers and challenged to patch them up and make them secure.  Then, during the day of the competition, professionals attack!  The team has to maintain their system servers while trying to keep or get the hackers out.  All of this has to be done without causing user problems.  It takes experience and skill to pose as a cyber attacker.  Dr. Paul Gray, a UNI professor as well as Sheriff’s advisor and mentor, is one of the professionals who has been an attacker for the competition.

With plans to graduate in December of 2018, Sheriff plans to make the most of his time at UNI and continue to enjoy his college experience.  He takes classes that build on previous classes, such as Data Structures.  He has taken classes such as Intermediate Computing using JAVA and Python programming languages as well as his favorite class to date, Networking.  After graduation, Sheriff  is off to the real world and with a degree in computer science.  His degree will allow him to work anywhere in any industry.


Ginger L'Heureux, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 02-08-18

Art Serving A Larger Purpose

Iowa Association of Energy Efficiency Scholarship Winner and UNI Interior Design Student Kimberly Wilderdyke, has plans to take her love of HGTV and art to serve a larger purpose.  Originally from Adel, Iowa, she has always really liked art.  She has been watching HGTV since she was about 7, because it interested her.  Watching HGTV started as a guilty pleasure, but has transformed into what she would like to do with her life — using her artistic talents to create impactful spaces for people to live, work, and be educated.  Interior Design is a form of art.  Kimberly will bring Interior Design into various environments to create feelings of comfort, productivity, and inspiration.

Interior Design Student Field Trip

Making the decision to come to UNI was an easy one for Kimberly.  She said that the campus was the perfect size for her, had many opportunities, and that it “felt like home right away.”  As a sophomore, Kim feels that UNI’s Interior Design department is preparing the students for their futures.  Even as freshmen, students connect with vendors and design firms.  For example, a group of fellow students went to Minneapolis last spring to visit residential and commercial firms.  It is this type of field trip that really helps the students think about the work of interior designers before getting too far into the program.

There are two sides to interior design.  The technical side and the creative side.  Kimberly finds that working with these two sides and bringing them together is interesting and challenging.  Drafting has been one of the technical courses that Kimberly found to be extremely challenging, enjoyable, and rewarding.  To complete this course, Kimberly spent quite a bit of time in the library hand drafting and creating blueprints.  “Most people do not realize how much architecture goes into interior design,” she said.  The reward came at the end of the course when Kimberly was able to take a step back, look and be proud of her well done project.  One of her classes that focuses on the creative aspect of interior design is Design Foundations.  In this class, Kimberly developed her technical knowledge and started to experiment with textures and colors.

One fun mock project that Kimberly has been able to do is to complete space planning for the Burj Khalifa.  The class was given access to the blueprints for the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world located in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  The building is unique, not only because of its height, but also because it is shaped like a flower and becomes narrower as you move upward.  Students created floorplans of the apartments.  The changing shape of the building, with no two floors are alike, makes the project like a fun jigsaw puzzle.

Kimberly came to UNI with a number of credits and was originally planning to graduate in three years.  However, she has since decided to stretch her education to four years so that she can focus on residential design in her junior year and commercial design in her senior year.  The additional time on campus will allow for her to obtain a minor and a Sustainability Certificate.  Kimberly wants to be an interior designer emphasizing in sustainability.  Sustainability Certificates are available for all students.  Requirements include taking 15 credits from a specific list of courses that span across many areas of study but all have a foundation in sustainability.

Excited about next year’s residential design focus, Kimberly is looking forward to the next couple of years on campus, in and out of the classroom.  She wants to continue to dig deeper into her design coursework and make more connections with professionals in the field.  She would like to have a head start on looking for a position so that one can be lined up prior to graduation.   Her internship, required by her major, will help meet these goals.

Kimberly was awarded one of two scholarships from the Iowa Association for Energy Effiiciency (IAEE).  The IAEE is a professional organization promoting the art and science of the efficient use of energy.  With rapidly changing technology, IAEE’s focus is to keep its members on the cutting edge.  To learn more go to

Ringing Bells for the Salvation Army

Kimberly’s desire to make an impact in the world is evident when she discussed her job on campus and involvement in student organizations.  She wants to get involved as much as she can.  Currently, she works at Hagemann Hall as a Desk Assistant.  She truly enjoys this position as it allows her to talk to people, and possibly help someone who may need comfort or support saying, “You never know what is going on in others’ lives, so it is always good to chat and hopefully brighten someone’s day.”

Three groups that have made a difference in Kimberly’s semester.  First, she attends SALT on Thursday nights on campus.  This is a church service for college students.  In conjunction with SALT, she participates in a small connect group.  One of the things her connect group did was ringing the bells for the Salvation Army in front of HyVee.  Her group went a little farther than just ringing the bells.  They sang songs, accompanied by her leader’s ukulele.  They tried to be as entertaining as possible.  The third thing is attending services at Candeo Church in Cedar Falls.  These three groups have helped Kimberly adjust and be supported in her education and life on UNI campus.

Kimberly radiates positivity when she talks about her major and her future career.  She hopes that her future will involve owning her own Interior Design business.  She looks forward to helping people create amazing, energy efficient and comfortable homes.  Kim encourages future students in STEM and Interior Design to be passionate about whatever they decide to do.  Anyone and everyone can make a positive impact in the world.   

Ginger L'Heureux, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 01-31-18

Hard Work & Lots of Play -- First Generation Series (2 of 4)

Joseph Espinosa, All-Science Education Major and First Generation  College Student.Job Shadowing his science teacher as a high school freshman changed Joseph Espinosa’s path for his future.  He witnessed his teacher, at Bishop-Garrigan High School in Algona, helping students learn and loving teaching.  Joseph‘s teacher influenced how he wants to live his own life—helping others and enjoying what interests him.  It was this point that Joseph decided that he wanted to become a science teacher.  Joseph is the youngest child of his family and the only one who has gone to college. 

As a high school senior, a friend convinced Joseph to come to Cedar Falls to visit the UNI campus.  He found that he loved the atmosphere and the smaller campus.  Joseph is now in his sophomore year as an All-Science Education major.  Living in a residence hall on campus, Hagemann Hall, has also been an integral part of his life on campus.  His experience so far has been difficult at times, because some of the classes are challenging, but he keeps working at it and will not be deterred from his goals.  

Chemistry courses are his favorite courses overall.  Joseph truly enjoyed the hands on experiments of the General Chemistry courses,  especially when having to use math for the quantitative portion of the experiments.  One of the interesting projects he has had in his coursework was in his Organismal Diversity Biology course.  Groups (plants) had to design the most disgusting seed possible using items such as candy, hot sauce and tape so that the plant eaters would not want to eat it.  Next, the plants “dispersed” their seeds by throwing them or dropping them, just like a plant would.  Then the plant eaters had a limited amount of time to find all the seeds.  Joseph’s team won because no one found one of their seeds.

Joseph works at the Piazza and has some fun outside of the classroom.  You may find him working in the Sizzle or Wok areas of the dining hall.  He is part of the Northern Iowa Gaming Collective Board Games who meets every Thursday night in the Library.   Joseph is a part of the Panther Table Top Club, who play card games and other board games.  He is also a lower executive member of the Panther eSports as the Hagemann Hall coordinator.  As coordinator, he works with other hall coordinators to organize the Inter-Dorm competition.  Panther eSports also organizes and hosts the UNICON event on campus every November (

Getting the most out of your college experience is important to Joseph, which is why he would like to become part of the residence hall staff.  Just like in the classroom, Joseph wants to help incoming students adjust to college life and grow their leadership opportunities.  He has observed that many students stay in their rooms and he wants to encourage participation on campus.  For students interested in STEM majors, he says, “It is going to be difficult, but don’t let that deter you.  Just keep working hard.  Talk to your teachers.  Talk to your professors.  They will help you if you need help.”  After he graduates, Joseph would like to teach in the Algona area and save up to see Ireland and Spain.

Ginger L'Heureux, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 01-18-18