Alumna Shateeya Roberts ’19 Wins NYU Cyber Fellows Scholarship to Pursue Master’s at NYU Tandon School of Engineering

Alumna Shateeya Roberts ’19 Wins NYU Cyber Fellows Scholarship to Pursue Master’s at NYU Tandon School of Engineering

Alumna Shateeya Roberts ’19 Wins NYU Cyber Fellows Scholarship to Pursue Master’s at NYU Tandon School of Engineering

Alumna Shateeya Roberts ’19, who grew up in Nyack, New York, is paving the way for other women and people of color in the world of computer science and cybersecurity. As a winner of the New York University Cyber Fellows Scholarship, she joins the illustrious Cybersecurity master’s degree program at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. The program, designated as an NSA Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations and Cyber Defense Research, is ranked among the best online graduate computer information technology programs in the world. “I’ll have access to state-of-the-art labs, industry experts, and a renowned catalog of research that I know will elevate my skills to a new level,” says Roberts.  

Growing up, Roberts frequently dabbled in technology, taking apart her computer and Game Boy, mixing the pieces, and then meticulously putting them back together. “I loved figuring out how to get each of the devices back in one piece and working again. And although it drove my parents nuts, they were always proud when I accomplished my mission,” she admits, citing the support of her parents and loving blended family—she one of 17 children—as the foundation for her success. Roberts has already earned two bachelor’s degrees from John Jay—Fraud Examination and Financial Forensics in 2017 and Computer Science and Information Security in 2019. And, recently began classes at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. But she doesn’t plan on stopping there. “After I finish my master’s I intend to go to law school,” she says. “I want to advise policymakers in Washington. They need people like me, who understand technology and law, in the room when they’re creating internet-related laws and regulations that affect everyone.”

Roberts holds up her degree from John Jay
Roberts holds up her degree from John Jay

Discovering Her Passion at John Jay   
Growing up Roberts always had a deep interest in technology, but the thought of having a career in the field didn’t cross her mind until she came to John Jay. “The funny thing is when I got to John Jay, I wanted to go into accounting and I was intrigued by the College’s Fraud Examinations and Financial Forensics major,” says Roberts, “but then, during my senior year I took a digital forensics class and that was a total game-changer.” One of the course requirements was a coding project, which sparked something in her. “I loved every minute of it and I remember telling my professor how much I enjoyed it. That’s when he said I should consider a career in computer science, where I can do coding, computer programming, and even teach people how to use their devices.”

“Coming into the Computer Science and Information Security program at John Jay gave me a new level of understanding on how I could build a life around the field of technology.” —Shateeya Roberts

Taking her professor’s words to heart, Roberts did just that. After graduating in May 2017 with a degree in Fraud Examinations and Financial Forensics, she came back to John Jay three months later to pursue her second bachelor’s degree. “Coming into the Computer Science and Information Security program at John Jay gave me a new level of understanding on how I could build a life around the field of technology,” says Roberts, who thrived on her journey to earning a second degree. “I found myself immersed in the advancing digital technology world, understanding information infrastructure and the prevalent danger of cybercrimes, and I was thrilled by the idea that I could play a role in helping others. The College really opened up opportunities for me that I never would have imagined for myself. I was the first African-American female Vice President of the Computer Science Society at John Jay; I was visiting top tech firms like Google; and, it gave me direct access to a career prep experience with the Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York (WiTNY) Program at the City University of New York [CUNY].”

Roberts surrounded by my supportive family
Roberts surrounded by her supportive family

Finding Support for Women in Tech
According to Roberts, her opportunity with WiTNY came at just the right time. “While I was enjoying the computer science program and doing well in my classes, I began to see the number of women decreasing as I advanced through the program, and I was beginning to feel discouraged,” says Roberts. “I kept thinking, ‘Is this field only for men?’” Roberts’s questioning is understandable. The latest numbers from the National Science Foundation indicate that women account for just 18 percent of bachelor’s degrees earned in Computer Science. WiTNY fortunately provided context as to why a field that’s growing in job demand, has so little women working in it. “Through my work at WiTNY I learned that there are various factors that deter women from entering the field or enrolling in high level courses, such as lack of exposure to science, technology, engineering, and math [STEM] programs in elementary school. So, it’s not because women can’t do the work, it’s because they’re not being encouraged to take those classes and enter the field,” she says.

At John Jay, however, Roberts was not only encouraged to take advanced courses, she also received the unwavering support of faculty in the Mathematics and Computer Science Department, determined to see her succeed. “Everyone was phenomenal. The Chair of the department, Douglas Salane, was incredibly supportive and resourceful, and every professor I had was cheering me on every step of my journey,” says Roberts, who concedes that the positive outlook helped most when she had to take math. “The major requirements included taking calculus,” says Roberts. “Now, before John Jay, I hated math. Absolutely hated it. But at John Jay, I grew to love math. The professors broke down the concepts in a way that was easy to understand, fun, and memorable. And, Professor Hunter Johnson and Professor Sam Graff made calculus approachable and enjoyable. Their reassurance really helped me stay the course.”

Roberts ready to embark on her journey at NYU
Roberts ready to embark on her journey at NYU

Earning Her Master’s and Beyond
Currently, Roberts is performing double-duty. By day, she’s working at Deloitte US, known for its audit, consulting, advisory, and tax services. “Life is interesting that way. I initially went to John Jay because I wanted to go into accounting and went back for computer science, and now I work in the technology department at one of the top accounting firms in the world,” she says. By night, Roberts is a graduate student at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, pursuing a Cybersecurity master’s degree, and working with industry collaborators and peer mentors. “I’m hoping to develop my cybersecurity skills and become a better programmer through the program,” she says. “Ultimately, I want to become a resource for little girls and women thinking about a career in technology.” And, Roberts is already hard at work inspiring young girls via her social media platforms. Through her YouTube channel, she posts coding and computer programming tutorials, and discusses the ups-and-downs of her own journey in technology. “It’s important for kids to see that someone that looks or sounds like them is working in the computer science world. By seeing me, they can imagine themselves in the field,” she says. “I want to be able to tell them they can do it. They can achieve anything, so long as they keep at it, ignore any negativity, and put in the work.”

“John Jay is where the desire to become a lawyer really grew because the College showed me how I could merge both the world of computer science and law.” —Shateeya Roberts

After earning her master’s she plans to go to law school, something Roberts says, has been in the works for years. “John Jay is where the desire to become a lawyer really grew because the College showed me how I could merge both the world of computer science and law. Then when I saw Mark Zuckerberg testifying before Congress last fall, and heard the questions he was asked, I realized a lot of lawmakers don’t fully understand technology and the internet, and how it impacts every part of life.” Hoping to provide a guiding hand, Roberts can see herself acting as an advisor to policymakers. “Cybersecurity is a real issue, the crimes on the internet keep happening, and the laws just can’t keep up with the advancing technology. And, the reason for that is because the people creating and passing legislation and regulations don’t understand computer science, cybersecurity, and the internet. It’s people like me, who understand both the world of technology and the law that can work to change that.”