It’s not every person that would go back to school to earn their bachelor’s degree as a post-traditional student but Brian Mixon ’24 isn’t one to back down from a challenge. Mixon, a U.S. Marine Corps and Army Reserve veteran, is currently pursuing a degree in cybersecurity administration from the College of Professional Studies.
Mixon got his first federal employee job with the government as a mechanic after having served as a mechanic in the Marine Corps for eight years. After leaving the Marine Corps, he joined the Army Reserves to train for a career in information technology while he continued to work as a mechanic.
As Mixon was advancing in rank in the Army Reserves in the IT field, cybersecurity became more important to the nation. He took a year-long active assignment with the United States Army Cyber Command in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, with the Cyber Mission Force which conducts cyberspace operations, electromagnetic warfare, and information operations.
Following the end of that assignment, Mixon returned to his job as an IT specialist and was selected to join the Army Reserves’ first Cyber Protection Team with the Cyber Operations Group in Adelphi, Maryland. After two years in that role and a total of 20 years of military service, Mixon retired from the Reserves so that he could focus on his full-time career and spending more time with his family. He now works as a cyber analyst for the Marine Corps Operational Test and Evaluation Activity (MCOTEA) at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia. MCOTEA conducts operational testing and evaluation of material system capabilities for the Marine Corps. There, he coordinates various cyber test events as part of a team that provides Marine Corps decision makers with information needed to make informed decisions regarding critical resources and acquisitions—work he describes as fun.
“Essentially, it's a like a nice hack attack.” Mixon explains that for example, the Marine Corps purchases a truck with computer systems tied into the engine, then he coordinates the test to scan the computer systems for vulnerabilities.
He says the transition from IT to cybersecurity happened naturally and he found the field exciting. “It was really cool to see the things I was seeing, working in restricted-access facilities and building tools that were going to protect America for years to come.”
Going Back to School
While he was working, Mixon took some classes in cybersecurity to deepen his knowledge of the field. But it was the deputy commander of his Reserve organization in Adelphi, Lt. Col. Mike Campos, who told Mixon about Syracuse University’s cybersecurity administration program.
The online program gives Mixon the flexibility he needs to be able to continue working full time and spend time with his wife and three daughters in Virginia. Despite the practical knowledge Mixon brings with him to his classes, he still finds he learns something new every day, saying he found the forensics course—in which they learned about blood spatter analysis and vulnerabilities in bridge construction—particularly interesting. He’s looking forward to taking more of these kinds of classes.
I really feel like my professors are subject-matter experts in the fields they are teaching.—Brian Mixon '24
Though he’s nearing his retirement he believes his degree will help with increased opportunities for promotions. He appreciates the expertise the faculty bring to their courses. “I really feel like my professors are subject-matter experts in the fields they are teaching,” he says. “That's a big thing for me because throughout both my military and civilian careers I’ve been in situations where I didn’t always feel that I could go to my supervisor for subject matter expertise.” He says his professors have all been helpful and willing to work with him on any questions he may have about the course material.
He also appreciates the support he receives from the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs (OVMA). As an online student he receives regular correspondence from OVMA and it was through them that he learned about the Flanik Family Scholarship for Student Veterans.
He was particularly honored to receive this scholarship because of the sacrifices his family has made for his military career. “When I hear ‘thank you for your service,’ I consider ‘you’ to include my family,” he says.
His family also was the inspiration for him to follow his education goals. When he met his wife, she was a single mother working on a master’s degree, which she completed in her early 30s. Saying that personal growth will be a benefit he’ll gain from the program, he wants to show his daughters by his example, too, that it’s better late than never to finish your dreams of higher education. “She showed me it’s never too late and now it’s my chance to show that to my daughters,” he says.