Johnil Kim standing with arms folded with trees, students and a UNLV banner in the background

Bolstering networks: Nevada National Security Site supports UNLV cyber students with scholarships, internships

Johnil Kim standing with arms folded with trees, students and a UNLV banner in the background
Johnil Kim

Soon-to-be UNLV graduate Johnil Kim’s advice sounds like something out of a how-to book on landing your next gig. And maybe it’s because he’s already secured his first job, just a few weeks shy of commencement.

“Make sure whatever you do you have passion for it,” Kim said. “Passion brings someone from a novice level to an experienced professional. If you really enjoy what you do, you take time to internalize the information, and comprehend it on a deeper level.”

Kim took his own advice this past summer and immersed himself in a 12-week internship experience with the Emergency Communications Network (ECN) Program, part of the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS).

The ECN Program supports global emergencies through a secure telecommunications network. During emergency events, the ECN serves as the primary communications platform for Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration emergency response assets, providing data, video and voice communications to enable data telemetry, collaboration, decision making and response.

Now, Kim, who never before considered a career in national security, is looking at a job offer from the ECN Program – the latest sign of success from a recent and growing partnership between the ECN Program and UNLV.

“I’m definitely looking forward to being part of such an important mission,” said Kim. “It’s work that leaves a lasting impact.”

In the past three years, the ECN Program has bolstered its partnership with UNLV by supporting eight UNLV students with internships and scholarships, as well as providing guidance to university faculty on computer science and cybersecurity curriculum.

“It’s a great way to invest in the ECN Program’s future while supporting the local universities,” said Dr. Antonio Montgomery, Director of the ECN Program and a member of the UNLV Cybersecurity Board.

According to Yoohwan Kim, Associate Professor of Computer Science at UNLV, the partnership between the ECN Program, and the NNSS more broadly, has been “long and strong.” The ECN Program’s support helped the university launch a master’s degree in cybersecurity two years ago, and the Cybersecurity Board has helped ensure UNLV’s academic programs are linked in with what industry desires and that courses are updated to respond to ever-changing cyber threats.

“The NNSS has been instrumental in developing UNLV’s cybersecurity program,” Professor Kim said. “We are about to have the first graduates, and I am sure some of them will join NNSS.”

Tayler Kaneko, who graduated from UNLV in 2019 with a computer science degree and a specialization in cybersecurity, was one of the first UNLV graduates to take the path that Johnil Kim is now on.

Three years ago, she had no idea her work analyzing network traffic for malicious activity had the potential to protect national security interests. One email in her school inbox, and a subsequent summer internship with the ECN Program, completely changed her perspective.

“I was always thinking that when I graduate, I’m going to go private sector,” said Kaneko, a cybersecurity analyst for the ECN Program. “It’s good to come into work and be doing something that’s good for the country, and not just for a company selling a product.”

Now, as a Cyber Analyst II – after receiving a promotion just three months ago – Kaneko has been supporting the mission for nearly three years. In her upgraded role, Kaneko performs continuous monitoring of the network, and creates security plans to ensure laptops and other hardware are secure before being connected to the ECN.

“I’m very pleased that I applied and accepted the internship back in 2019,” Kaneko said. “I really enjoy this line of work – there’s never a dull day. And I very much enjoy the mission that we support.”

She passed her enthusiasm – as well as her growing expertise – onto Johnil Kim and two other interns that the ECN Program supported this summer.

“I took the same path, and now I’m the one who’s mentoring them,” Kaneko said. “It’s very full circle.”

Applications for the NNSS 2023 Summer Student Program are now open.