Alum Uses Skills Learned at Kettering to Enhance Vehicle Cybersecurity
Kristine Pankow (’16, EE/ME) wanted a job that allowed her to apply her technical skills to serve the needs of others. She found that job at General Motors.
“I needed to find work that allowed my heart to steer while letting my brain handle the logistics,” she said. “Ultimately, I landed a role where I could protect both a customer’s privacy and physical safety.”
Pankow has worked as a cybersecurity engineer since 2017. As a cybersecurity penetration test engineer, she would hunt for automotive vulnerabilities, help develop security threats, and find practical mitigations or remediations for vehicle cyber issues.
“It has been such a fulfilling job,” she said. “I love the amount of creativity required to address new vehicle cybersecurity risks and the extent to which security threat development calls for unconventional thinking.”
Recently, Pankow started a different role but has been able to leverage learnings from her past position. As she pointed out, “vehicles are becoming more and more software-driven which continues to broaden the number of threat vectors and reinforces the need for cybersecurity professionals.”
Although she didn’t have a background in cybersecurity, Pankow said she leaned on her background in electrical engineering as well as her ability to handle ambiguity coupled with condensed timelines, all of which she acquired at Kettering.
“Kettering brings with it a lot of teaching moments and helped me to forge a strong sense of discipline to see my short and long term goals through to the end,” Pankow said. While working to earn her two engineering degrees, she emphasized how her undergraduate experience humbled her with a sense of humility.
Because cyber attackers will always exist, she said the need for more people in her field will always be there. Knowledge of programming, networking, wireless communications and embedded hardware are useful for the job, Pankow said.
Kettering University Computer Science Department Chair Dr. Michael Farmer agreed with Pankow’s assessment of the job market in this field.
“You’ll never not find a job,” he said. “There will always be jobs everywhere. There are always people trying to do something they’re not supposed to do. It’s going to be one of those careers that’s here forever.”
At Kettering, students can minor in cybersecurity while computer science students can earn a concentration in it. Classes include cryptography, computer and network security, network forensics, and wireless and mobile security.
Farmer said the University hopes to add penetration testing and ethical hacking classes, which fall in line with the type of work Pankow was doing at GM. He also wants to start hacking competitions in which teams try to break into one another’s systems.
“That would be fun for the students, and we can invite other schools to compete against us,” Farmer said.
He said interest in cybersecurity has been steadily increasing along with artificial intelligence. He compared computer science and its related fields to football.
“It’s kind of like football in that you want an offense and defense,” Farmer said. “Cybersecurity is the defense side of things, but a lot of computer science people are on the offense by developing things.”
Pankow’s advice for students interested in the cybersecurity field is to explore the hidden treasures offered at Kettering ranging anywhere from scholarships to networking.
"Yes, we come from a small university, but one that homes opportunities just waiting for you to find them,” she said. She mentioned that alumni offer a plethora of information about new and upcoming technology as well as valuable skills needed in the industry. “Kettering helped to reinforce that you get to lead the charge when it comes to your career," Pankow said. "During my school and work terms, I had great mentors as well as professors that encouraged me to stretch far outside of what I thought I was capable of. This instilled mindset has followed me into the workplace.”
The learning doesn’t stop for Pankow as she takes on a new role at GM as an Embedded Software Platform Engineer for the Software-Defined Vehicle. She advises students to embrace change and don’t shy away from the unknown.
“When changing roles, your work life can change drastically,” Pankow said. “Your responsibilities, co-workers, hours, job site and the required skills will likely be different. Welcome the opportunity to grow and further develop yourself.”