The Q&A: Jonathan Duran ’20 Takes You Inside His CyberCorps® Scholarship Experience

Jonathan sits on steps of Craig-Lee in his cap and gown

If you’re a computer science or cybersecurity major, you’re going to want to hear this.

After graduating from RIC in 2020 with the highest distinction (summa cum laude), computer science major Jonathan Duran went on to apply for and win a competitive CyberCorps®: Scholarship for Service.

This scholarship not only paid for his entire graduate school tuition at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), he, like other CyberCorps® scholars, was given a stipend of $34,000 a year for books, travel, health insurance and professional development.

Why is the government willing to foot the bill for these students’ graduate degree? Because the nation needs thousands of cybersecurity professionals to protect its infrastructure from cyberattacks.

Upon graduation, scholarship recipients are required to work for a government agency in cybersecurity for a period equal to the length of their scholarship (from one to three years).

Working to protect our nation is no problem for Duran. He’s been on the frontline of cyber defense operations for the Air National Guard for over eight years. Since 2015 he’s been a member of the 102nd Cyber Operations Squadron, working part time on Air Force cyber defense.

After graduating from WPI in 2022, he continued cyber defense operations for the Air National Guard along with taking on a new full-time position as software engineer for Kessel Run in 2023, a division within the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center. 

In this Q&A, Duran gives you an inside look at how to land a CyberCorps® scholarship and how Rhode Island College prepared him for graduate school and his professional career.

Question: How competitive was it to get a CyberCorps®: Scholarship for Service?

Duran: It’s a relatively selective program because of all the prerequisites and guidelines you must follow, which include being able to obtain a U.S. Security clearance and land a position within a federal agency. It’s also competitive because the financial benefits attract many talented applicants. You don’t have to worry at all about finances while you’re in school.

Question: Aside from the many financial benefits, what other benefits does the CyberCorps®: Scholarship for Service offer?

Duran: The program helps you network with future potential employers, such as the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, the Department of Transportation and many others. They invite individuals from these agencies to come to WPI and give a private talk to the current Scholarship for Service cohort. This allows us a more personal and direct connection to these individuals and the agencies they represent. A new financial benefit they’re now offering is a one-time reimbursement for a laptop for up to $1,500.

Question: You’re required to work for a government agency in cybersecurity after graduation. You’ve been doing that for many years. What do you enjoy about the Air National Guard?

Duran: My time in the Rhode Island Air National Guard has been a great experience. With the tuition assistance they offer, which covers up to five classes per semester, and by using the GI Bill, which provides a housing allowance and book stipend, I was able to to earn my bachelor’s degree at RIC 100 percent debt-free. They also offer a lot of networking opportunities specifically tailored for military and veterans. I really enjoy the work that I do for the Air National Guard because I feel like I’m impacting the nation’s defense mission every day.

Question: How well did the computer science program at RIC prepare you for graduate school at WPI?

Duran: My undergraduate experience at RIC prepared me extremely well to excel at the graduate level at WPI, by providing the basics of computer science principles and exposure to advanced mathematics. It’s very hard to customize the computer science program at RIC to just WPI and their graduate program because not everyone at RIC will go to WPI or pursue a graduate degree, but RIC did well in helping me get the basics and in giving me a great foundation on which to excel.

Question: Which RIC computer science professors had the greatest impact on you?

Duran: There were many computer science professors at RIC who helped me on my journey. I can say each had a distinct impact on my learning and growth.

Dr. Qian Lu, who taught CS 211 and CS 325, helped mold my initial foundation in computer science. He presented the material in such a simple and easy-to-understand manner that individuals who are just beginning to learn about computer science could easily understand and comprehend the material.

Dr. Sarawagi helped instill a deep understanding of object-oriented design and software architecture, which helped me become a more proficient computer scientist.

Dr. Mello-Stark was my advisor and professor for many courses. She allowed me and other students to get a very hands-on experience of learning in a very collaborative environment. She was also the person who pushed me to apply to WPI and to the CyberCorps®: Scholarship for Service program.

Question: What advice would you offer other computer science or cybersecurity majors who want to go on to graduate school?

Duran: Brush up on discrete mathematics and advanced mathematical proofs, such as proof by induction. I’d also suggest that students pursue RIC’s current minors in cybersecurity and Web design. It will provide you with the knowledge you need for the various courses you’ll take in graduate school.

Also see: “A Tuition-Free Graduate Degree in Cybersecurity


Find out about this tuition-free scholarship to graduate school from a RIC alumnus who earned one.