Nov. 20, 2023
Class of 2023: A pivot back to passion put VCU’s Jalen Harrison on a fresh path
As junior year neared, he took an “interesting jump” to rekindle his interest in technology, and a cybersecurity job now awaits.
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As an underclassman at Virginia Commonwealth University, Jalen Harrison was studying what he had been passionate about since high school. Or so he thought.
“Most of my background in high school aligned with IT and cybersecurity,” Harrison said. “I took classes involving cybersecurity and coding, as well as competed in CyberPatriot,” a national K-12 cyber education program. “I decided to try engineering [in college] because of my uncle’s degree in civil engineering at VMI and my desire to have high job security.”
But while taking introductory classes in the VCU College of Engineering, he realized he only enjoyed the hands-on lab courses.
“The other classes that talked about the principles of engineering and advanced math concepts were very difficult, and I didn’t feel passionate about the work I was doing,” he said. “I did what I had to do to pass, but I knew I wouldn’t be happy staying in the program long term. The only thing I knew was that I still wanted to work on something related to technology.”
As luck would have it, one of the first people Harrison met at VCU was Laura Lemza, the director of Engineering Career Services.
“I ended up working with her as an Engineering Career Services office assistant and was able to get an inside view of how job postings, mock interviews, résumé reviews, career fairs, post-career fair interviews and other events worked,” Harrison said. “It has proven to be a great help to this day, as I still use some of the advice she gave me for networking events and job interviews.”
Lemza also was a tremendous help as Harrison considered different degree programs that involved technology. And as junior year approached, he had to lock in a new major – and he ended up in an unexpected place.
Harrison decided to pursue a degree in information systems in the VCU School of Business. The curriculum sparked a passion reminiscent of his high school experience, and though he had no business background, he was ready to navigate the “interesting jump” into new terrain.
“It made the most sense to me. I am happy I made the switch,” he said.
Firmly entrenched as a junior, Harrison flew through his foundational business courses and knew he was in the right place.
“I was interested in almost every class I took, and I was passionate about my work,” he said. “I came to VCU in fall of 2019, and I am still going to be able to finish school in my expected grad year — 2023.”
During his time as a Ram, Harrison joined the student organization Developing Men of Color and the national fraternity Kappa Delta Rho, and he acquired the Certified in Cybersecurity certificate from ISC2.
“I was able to acquire this while taking a full schedule of classes, going to work part-time, taking care of my dog and doing other things I needed to do,” he said.
Harrison recently accepted a position at Deloitte, a leading audit, consulting, tax and advisory services firm; he will start this summer as a cybersolution analyst in the Risk and Financial Advisory group. In the meantime, he will study for CompTIA Security+ certification, a global designation of baseline skills to perform core security functions and pursue an IT security career.
And for some parting wisdom, Harrison offers this to all incoming students: “Take advantage of VCU Career Services and network with people who share your interests.”
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