Mikayla Dockweiler ’22 first enrolled at Gannon University to help pilot the women’s wrestling team, but soon found herself helping to start much more.
Dockweiler became one of the first students in the university’s newly launched cyber engineering program. In May 2022, she became the first graduate of the program, cementing her footprint in the university’s history.
Mikayla Dockweiler '22 poses on the iconic staircase in Gannon's Insitute for Health and Cyber Knowledge.
Dockweiler began her journey at Gannon University first in the undecided program and then in mechanical engineering. A year into her academic career, she saw a billboard on I-79 about Gannon’s new cyber programs and said to her teammates, “Hey, I really like this. Do you think it would be crazy?”
A month later she had made her decision. “This is crazy, and I’m going to do it,” she said.
Being one of the first students enrolled in the cyber engineering program gave Dockweiler the unique opportunity to provide feedback and help finalize the curriculum. It was an opportunity that students don’t always have in long-standing programs, she said.
“You’re making the footprint,” Dockweiler said. “That’s not something you can necessarily have in an established program. Faculty are really receptive to how we can make this program top of the charts.”
Dockweiler brings her insights gained from a paid internship with top-secret security clearance working in the artificial intelligence sector of the U.S. Government, which she plans to continue upon graduation.
Dockweiler said she has been able to share with Gannon what she feels students need to be successful in the field, as well as help identify specific goals and objectives for the continually expanding program.
“These are concepts that are so abstract,” she said. “Of course, when you’re working at companies, they want tangible things.
“But the thing is when you’re at big companies they ask, ‘That’s a crazy idea, but is it feasible?’ Things like self-driving cars and home assistants started with an ambiguous ‘Can we even do this?’ and then someone went down that rabbit hole and kept digging,” she said.
Companies are beginning to value this work more and more as technology expands and data needs protecting. Cyber engineering professionals create new systems while securing data from its conception.
Dockweiler said this is advantageous, as creating a new system for a company involves using innovation to actively secure the personal data of clients.
“When you’re in the position of doing something like that, you’re doing two jobs at once – securing data and making an idea a reality,” she said. “You’re never losing money or time doing those projects.”
Dockweiler was in the cyber engineering program for three years of her academic career, meaning most of her time wasn’t spent in the architectural masterpiece that is the Institute of Health and Cyber Knowledge, or I-HACK, which opened in 2021.
Dockweiler said that if she had seen the amenities in the I-HACK facility when she was first considering the cyber field, there would have been no question in her head about majoring in cyber engineering.
“That facility is amazing, and it’s just going to get better,” she said. “The fact that it's amazing right now, and there's still more space to expand on it, that’s insane.”
She sees the facility becoming a staple on Gannon’s Erie campus in the coming years as it has study spaces, creative laboratories and state-of-the-art technology.
As she leaves Gannon, she looks back on all the ways she has grown. Her leadership skills have grown along with her academic and athletic skills, enabling her to become a person so many people can look up to.
Dockweiler said she’s found herself to be an empathetic leader who tailors her approach to whom she is talking.
Mikayla Dockweiler '22 is the first student to graduate from Gannon's cyber engineering program.
“My leadership has changed a little bit as I’ve grown up,” Dockweiler said. “I realized you can lead people differently depending on who they are.
“If you can’t put yourself in someone else’s shoes, how do you know how to approach the situation? Vulnerability is huge when leading somebody. If someone can trust you, and they know they can trust you, then you have a huge amount of responsibility and a huge opportunity to help them,” she said.
After leading other students, Dockweiler has advice to prospective students who, like her, are taking a chance at something new.
“I took a chance on the program, too, because I was walking into literally nothing,” Dockweiler said. “Since I’ve been at Gannon, I’ve piloted two programs now. I’ve piloted an athletic program, and I’ve piloted an academic program. The biggest thing for me, speaking to anyone who’s even thinking or considering going into a cyber program: try it. It is probably the coolest thing you will do because there’s so many opportunities that I’ve had doing this program right now that I would’ve never had if it weren’t for this program.”
By Chloe Forbes '21, web assistant