Faculty Focus, Dr. Donna Farrell
Assistant Professor, Computer Information Technology
Elon University. Bachelor’s.
East Tennessee State University. M.B.A. and Ed.S.
Proud Harley-Davidson rider and Motor Maid MC member.
What is your background in Information Technology?
I worked in the information technology field for more than 20 years. I programmed computers safety systems for miners working underground. When I left I was managing 48 employees in seven states. It was a very fast-paced, get-it-done-yesterday corporate atmosphere.
How was the transition from the corporate world to the classroom?
It was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. I expected students to be accountable like professional employees, but that was not the case. I’ve had to develop ways to keep them on track. For example, we love the Remind app to keep students aware of assignments and exam dates.
How has Information Technology changed over time?
Everything now is faster, better, and more efficient. In networking where we once were able to take drives and cables to physically arrange a network we can now do it electronically. The students like to be able to drag and drop a router onto a network. But there are students who still love to take computers apart and put them back together. In cyber defense, we talk about software engineering and how to tell the difference between a spam mail and a cyber defense incident.
Conventional wisdom says that high school students are far ahead in their knowledge of computer technology. Generally speaking, is that true?
Yes, it is. What they don’t have a grasp of, is time management and successful study habits. Study habits are built by studying at least 10 to 15 to 20 minutes per subject every day. You will know and learn much more all through the semester. This gives you a much better grasp of the subject, and you will remember it. Trying to learn everything before an exam will not help you remember over time.
Why should students pursue a degree in cyber defense?
Compared to when I was in high school, there is so much more out there to do and so many new avenues available to them. When I started working at Cisco I was the only female at the table. Or underground in the coal mine or on top of a silo in a pit mine. I really want to encourage women to enter the cyber defense field. Women are great multitaskers and bring a lot of creativity and detail-oriented thinking to the field. By 2020, there is going to be a large deficit of professional needed in the cybersecurity field. There is a wealth of professional opportunities now and with many more waiting in the future.
What appeals to you about Northeast State?
I like the fact we don’t have 50 students in a classroom. You get a smaller learning group. It creates a much more caring environment. I also like that the students are here because they want to learn. I try to learn all my students’ names. I think it is very important that if you come to class the professor knows your name and forms a personal connection with the student. I learn a lot of new things from students.
What do you do away from work?
I work for Harley Davidson and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation as an instructor for safety courses. You do a lot of and recertification classes for safety. I’m also a member of the Motor Maids, the oldest women’s motorcycle club in the United States. I’ve been on a bike since I was four years old. I actually met my husband at a gas station while we were both riding motorcycles.