Retired Vice Admiral Jan Tighe, Alumnus
Former Commander of U.S. Fleet Cyber Command, NPSF Advisory Council Member

Retired Vice Admiral Jan Tighe graduated from NPS in 2001 with a PhD in electrical engineering and a master’s degree in applied mathematics. In 2012, she came back to NPS to serve as the president of the school, where she now serves as a member of the NPS Foundation Advisory Council. Admiral Tighe retired from the U.S. Navy in 2018 after serving as the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare and as the 66th Director of Naval Intelligence. Previously, she served as the Commander of U.S. Fleet Cyber Command and U.S. 10th Fleet, where she was the first woman to command a numbered fleet. She currently serves on the board of directors for Goldman Sachs, the Huntsman Corporation, Progressive Insurance and IronNet Cybersecurity. 

How would you describe your NPS experience?  
I initially had a difficult time transitioning from a leadership role for so many years to being focused on my own education. It felt selfish and uncomfortable. I quickly realized that this professional investment of time would make me a much more capable cryptologist and leader. I committed to gaining as much knowledge as possible and truly enjoyed the NPS academic environment.

What are some highlights from your time at NPS and in Monterey? 
My highlights are all about the people… from getting to know my fellow students from different communities, services and allied countries to getting a sense of the incredibly committed faculty as professors, advisors and friends. Beyond the NPS family, Monterey has so much to enjoy … It still feels like home to me and my family.

What does it mean to you to now serve as part of the NPS Foundation Advisory Council? 
I am excited to be able to stay connected with and contribute to the NPS mission as a member of the advisory council. I am hopeful that we can foster new partnerships and facilitate investments in NPS that both elevate the student experiences and faculty research opportunities in relevant, cutting-edge technologies.

How did your NPS experience benefit you in your post-NPS career?  
I always considered my graduate program in Electrical Engineering and Applied Mathematics to be a course of study in my warfare area of Information Warfare and Cryptology. It was all about mastering our battle space, the electromagnetic spectrum and cyberspace. All graduate programs at NPS hone critical thinking and communication skills, both of which are so important for military leaders.

Looking back at your naval career, what brings you the most pride?  
I am most proud of the significant accomplishments by those I have had the privilege to lead and mentor. Nothing else comes close to the sense of pride and fulfillment that I get knowing that, in some small way, I shaped future mission accomplishment by investing and believing in my people.

What are some of the most pressing cybersecurity issues currently facing the Navy and the Department of Defense (DoD)?
When I retired in 2018, my top priorities were securing the Navy’s operational technologies and platforms from cyber attacks and ensuring our critical unclassified data was protected inside our own networks and in the networks of our defense contractors. I know the Navy and DoD are committed to making progress in these areas, but it’s necessarily a long road. The adversary never stops trying to find new ways to defeat our mission, so we must continually upgrade our cyber defensive capabilities to meet these challenges.

 
 

Erica Hupka, Alumnus
Manager of Campus Resilience at University of Kansas Medical Center

When Erica Hupka applied for the Centers for Homeland Defense and Security Master’s Program at NPS, she was working as an emergency manager and trainer at the University of Kansas Medical Center (UKMC) Police Department. Working for the university, Hupka experienced the impact that cancer research can have on people’s lives, which served as the initial inspiration for her NPS master’s thesis. And when her technology class discussed blockchain, a technology that enables certain types of cryptocurrency, a light bulb went off. “Working with my advisors, Drs. Rodrigo Nieto-Gomez and Ted Lewis, we were able to devise a way to use the backbone of blockchain to better secure and share research data in near-real time; hopefully, allowing the best and brightest minds all over the globe to work together to solve the most wicked problems – including how to cure cancer,” she says.

While Hupka’s current work isn’t focused on curing cancer, she says it’s the way NPS taught her to think and approach problems that has brought so much value to her post-NPS career. “My time at NPS has changed the way I view the world,” she says. “I approach almost every facet of my life differently now than I did before the program. Whether in my professional or personal life, I approach challenges more methodically with a global view.”

After graduating NPS in 2018 with a master’s in security studies, Hupka continued working at UKMC, where she became a subject matter expert on active shooter preparedness in the healthcare industry. With a colleague, she planned and executed a multi-agency full-scale active shooter exercise with no budget. “Helping write that program after graduating from NPS is one of the highlights of my career,” she says.

Currently, Hupka is the assistant director of emergency management and business continuity at the University of Kansas Health System, where she oversees all emergency preparedness, management and continuity activities for the health system. In this new role, she has once again experienced her NPS degree adding value to her job, particularly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Dealing with a pandemic requires a significant amount of concentration, organization, and dedication,” she says. “That happens to be exactly the same recipe needed to complete the coursework while writing a thesis at NPS.”

 
 

LTJG Brian Pajarillo, Student
U.S. Navy

As a former staff member of the NPS Student Services Office, current president of the NPS President’s Board of Student Advisors and director of campus outreach for the newly launched Trident Room Podcast, LTJG Brian Pajarillo has had an unconventional NPS experience.

“I’ve been given many opportunities to lead my peers in a unique way,” he says. “I came to work as a part of the Student Services Staff prior to becoming a student. This role allowed me the unique capability of understanding how NPS operates. I’ve taken this experience forward in my role as part of the President’s Board for Student Affairs. It’s from this experience that I’ve gained perspective on how commands can better disseminate relevant information in a timely manner.”

For Pajarillo, a Human Resources Officer in the U.S. Navy, this perspective will be particularly valuable to him in his post-NPS tour as a manpower analyst. Pajarillo will be one of many manpower analysts who are responsible for developing policies to ensure the Navy and Department of Defense are recruiting, training, utilizing and retaining personnel in the most efficient and effective ways possible. “I can use my manpower modeling skills to get a better understanding of how our sailors behave,” he says. “Using models to better understand why sailors choose to reenlist, or not, allows us to cater to their needs better.”

Pajarillo notes that doing so has been a highlight of his career. He has helped young officers who failed to qualify in their community, risking an end to their military career, be able to transition into a different community and remain in the military. “These officers showed such an inspiring motivation to serve, so I intend to spend my career trying to bring value to other officers.”

 
 

Dr. Gurminder Singh, Faculty
Chair of the Computer Science Department

Dr. Gurminder Singh has been a professor in the NPS Computer Science Department for nearly 20 years. Now, as the newly appointed chair of the department, he is aiming to increase both military and industry partnerships with the school. And as a former tech startup founder and CEO, and the founder of global conferences in the virtual reality and user interface fields, Dr. Singh is well-qualified to lead the department in transferring technology to both government and industry entities. “Our department has many brilliant people exploring brilliant ideas,” he says. “There is a lot more value that can and should be extracted from our efforts and expertise. I would encourage and support the incubation of select ideas for technology transfer to the Department of Defense and industry. Some of the channels for this exist at NPS but are not fully exploited.”

Dr. Singh is also passionate about multidisciplinary research and partnering with other departments at NPS to expand research opportunities. Much of Dr. Singh’s own research is tied to the Internet of Things – a concept that denotes a system of interrelated, internet-connected devices that transfer data via wireless networks without the need for human intervention. These devices – such as ‘smart’ doorbells and thermostats, heart rate and sleep monitoring technology, and the 60-200 small devices present in most vehicles – are quickly replacing their now-archaic counterparts. “There is a proliferation of small devices everywhere,” Dr. Singh explains. “The applications of these small devices are growing rapidly too. My research has focused on using small devices to enable communication among people without reliance on external infrastructure, which can be destroyed because of man-made or natural disasters, unavailable due to geographic or atmospheric conditions, unsafe to use, or blocked by government action. In such situations, people should be able to use their own devices to communicate.”

Enabling communication without relying on external infrastructure also has practical applications in the military, as in combat situations where infrastructure is often destroyed. “One day I brought this problem to my class and the entire group started building a solution that culminated in the inception of TwiddleNet, a system that could run on commercial-off-the-shelf cellphones to enable direct communication among other devices running the system.”

Dr. Singh says he often witnesses this high level of motivation from his students. “They have been away from academia for several years and are highly motivated to learn. These are the qualities that make our students unique and fun to teach. Students engage in conversation, they ask questions, discuss what operational problems could be solved by applying concepts learned in the class, and suggest future military applications.”

According to Dr. Singh, it’s not just the students that are unique, but the institution itself. “I am proud of what we accomplish at NPS,” he says. “As opposed to a traditional university where students typically go from one degree to the next, we take students who have been away from academia for a long time. In a time-compressed manner, we help them achieve graduate-level expertise.”

 
 

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