Cyber security student places second in national competition

Published on: December 15, 2023
GTCC student Mojo Ariunaa speaks at the US Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program visit on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023.
Munkhtsetseg "Mojo" Ariunaa speaks at the US Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program visit.

At only 17, Guilford Technical Community College student Munkhtsetseg “Mojo” Ariunaa has found great success in the cyber security program.

Originally from Mongolia, Ariunaa came to the United States to pursue her education. She is currently enrolled in the associate in science degree, computer transfer pathway program, with the intention of transferring to either UNC Charlotte or UNC-Chapel Hill after she graduates from GTCC.

Prior to declaring her major, Ariunaa wasn’t sure what she wanted to study. She landed on cyber security because she likes to crack codes and solve puzzles. Though she originally considered attending a four-year university, GTCC appealed more to her.

“At GTCC, I can take the more advanced computer classes instead of just the general classes,” she said. “If I went to a four-year university, I wouldn’t take the cyber security classes until my third or fourth year.”

Ariunaa, with the encouragement of her cyber security instructor Astrid Hoy, competed in the National Cyber League (NCL) competition in November. The NCL is a performance-based, learning-centered collegiate cybersecurity competition.

Hoy signed Ariunaa up for the competition, confident that she would perform well and knowing what it could add to her resume.

“She was an excellent student in my data recovery techniques class. I was encouraging all students to join because to be in a cyber challenge is like an unpaid internship where employers can tell what skills you possess. They can add it to their resume,” explained Hoy. “Mojo was one of the first students who expressed interest in the cyber challenge.”

Ariunaa competed in both the team games and in the individual games.

Though her team did not win the team games, Ariunaa placed in the individual game. Out of 7,928 competitors, she placed second and was awarded a silver medal.

The individual game consisted of a series of cyber security-related tasks. For example, Ariunaa was tasked with finding out where a hacker is operating from using an image, a file, or through a certain sequence of events the hacker completed.

“I didn’t know there were that many people competing. I was so surprised to get the notification of the silver medal,” said Ariunaa. “I couldn’t believe it, because it was my first time competing. I wasn’t familiar with cyber security before coming to GTCC. That competition taught me a lot.”

Despite not knowing the full scope of the competition, Ariunaa felt prepared going into because of the classes she is taking at GTCC.

“There are two classes I’m taking right now, data recovery and secure communication,” said Ariunaa. “The work I did in those classes prepared me for the competition. Professor Astrid signed me up for the competition, and we went to a practice game to prepare.”

Hoy has been impressed with Ariunaa’s performance in her classes and speaks highly of her.

“Mojo is one of the best students I have ever had. She is super smart, personable, professional, and only seventeen years old,” said Hoy. “Her skill level is very impressive, and she is motivated to add to her skill set as fast as she can.”

With this accomplishment under her belt, Ariunna is already looking toward the future.

“After I get my four-year degree in computer science, I will get my master’s in cyber security. I also want to go into law, so I would like to combine the two and become a cyber security investigator,” said Ariunaa. “I’m also thinking of creating a non-profit organization. First in Mongolia, and then I would expand, specifically to help women in the science field and in STEM.”

In October, Ariunna got a taste of how she can impact women in the STEM field. She was invited to be part of a panel for a group of international women who are successful in their particular STEM fields. Ariunaa had the opportunity to share her experiences with the women, and received invaluable advice and perspective from the visitors.

Wherever Ariunna’s career takes her, she can look back to GTCC and know the instructors here helped jumpstart her education with educational and professional development opportunities.

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