Dr. Eman El-Sheikh UWF professor 2024 GISEC Educator of the year award

After initially coming to Pensacola for its beach, one local professor has created her own waves within the cybersecurity field, which has led to both national and international recognition for her work and contributions.

Dr. Eman El-Sheikh is the director of the University of West Florida’s Center for Cybersecurity as well as an active professor who has spent more than two decades in the cybersecurity field.

“I’ve loved every minute of my 24 years here, they say time flies when you’re having fun,” she said. “It has been a great experience helping students, developing programs and leading the future of education.”

El-Sheikh received the 2024 GISEC Global Educator of the Year award last week during GISEC Global’s 2024 Cyber Excellence awards in Dubai, which had more than 20,000 attendees. The award recognizes individuals who have made a significant impact on the field of cybersecurity education.

Prioritizing the success and well-being of those around her is what helped El-Sheikh become recognized as one of the most impactful cybersecurity educators in the world.

“I’ve always been passionate about helping others and since I got here, I don’t think there was one time that I suggested doing something to help our community where I was told no (by UWF).”

El-Sheikh said her passion for helping others was instilled in her by her parents, who also encouraged her to empathy and drive, and reminded her that she can do anything she puts her mind to. El-Sheikh now shares those same lessons with her students, whether it’s used in their professional or personal lives.

“I’ve encountered some fabulous students who didn’t have the confidence and that doubted themselves; often women and underrepresented minorities that I could see were rockstars, but without that little bit of encouragement may not have made it through,” El-Sheikh said. “That has fueled me even more to help others because it’s about helping them see the power they have within them.”

With an educational background centered around the fields of artificial intelligence and computer science machinery related to cybersecurity, El-Sheikh received her bachelor’s degree from the American University in Cairo and her Ph.D. from Michigan State University 10 years later in 2002.

When the allure of Pensacola Beach and its climate initially pulled El-Sheikh to UWF, she was tasked with creating a strategy on how the university could break into cybersecurity.

In order to accomplish this task, El-Sheikh spearheaded the creation of the Center for Cybersecurity, developed academic programs and launched research into cybersecurity to benefit both existing and upcoming cyber professionals.

“Once I got here, I really fell in love with the university and the community,” El-Sheikh said. “UWF has been great in allowing me to not only pursue my dreams, but to help.”

Whether it’s verbal support, guidance or expert advice that one needs in the cybersecurity field, UWF’s award-winning Center for Cybersecurity can assist thanks to the procedures established by El-Sheikh. There are even aptitude tests available to help potential employees identify which cyber-work roles they are a good fit for and lessons they can take for free.

El-Sheikh and the Center for Cybersecurity also lead a national program called CyberSkills2Work, which provides free training and professional development for potential cyber-professionals that is conducted in a coalition with ten other universities.

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One of the program’s goals has been to train 5,000 women, underrepresented minorities, first responders, transitioning military veterans and more, for free. The program is funded through federal agencies like the National Security Agency, according to El-Sheikh.

The Center for Cybersecurity has extensive resources available for newcomers to the field, which is a product of El-Sheik’s desire to simultaneously create an innovative and helpful environment for students.

“We have had such great success at the center … but what gives me the greatest joy or brings me to tears is getting an email from students saying they learned or got a job,” El-Sheikh said. “That’s what means the most to me; helping others succeed in their journey.”

El-Sheikh is also a member of the Florida Cybersecurity Task Force, the founder of the Florida Women in Cybersecurity’s Affiliate group and a peer-reviewed author with more than 75 published articles.

“I always encourage people to think of successes or learning experiences; there’s never a failure, it’s about learning from every opportunity and listening,” she said. “The more you can hone in on what the actual challenge is, the more you can create a successful solution for it.”

Offering her advice to students, she said, “Find your passion and try everything, even what your parents suggest, because you won’t know unless you try. Believe in yourself, be bold, keep an open mind and remember you’ve got this.”