“When you have the ability to do what you love, love what you do and have the ability to impact people. … That’s having a life of success.”
George Mason University’s Mitchell Martinez has never met former college football icon Tim Tebow, but the graduating senior couldn’t believe more in his definition of success.
That’s how Martinez, 22, also feels as he concludes an extraordinary career of collegiate achievement while at Mason and looks ahead to the next chapter of his life. Overcoming personal and financial hardships along the way, the cyber security engineering major from the Volgenau School of Engineering and Honors College student is poised to become the first in his family to earn an advanced degree and secure a high-paying job.
Martinez is already a cyber security engineer at CACI, where he began as an intern, and plans to eventually pursue a PhD in computer science.
“This might not seem as big of a deal to others,” he said, “but getting here as a Hispanic was not easy, and I want to make it easier for others.”
Working nearly full time since the beginning of his tenure at Mason, Martinez attended classes during the day before going straight to work until late at night and then staying up until the wee hours of the morning doing math homework before starting the day all over again.
Despite the frenetic schedule, he nonetheless found time to be involved socially in the Theta Tau Professional Engineering fraternity and seven intramural title-winning athletic teams. Martinez also spent a semester studying abroad in Switzerland prior to the global pandemic.
He found his passion and professional interest at CACI International Inc., a Northern Virginia-based firm that provides information technology and network solutions for the defense, intelligence and e-government sectors. Martinez has particular interest in offensive security, culminating in a year-long research project that focused on developing a cyberattack platform that can be mounted on working dogs. He then took his experiences to develop a sophisticated attack evasion tool for his senior design sponsor, Lockheed Martin Space.
“In this field, it is the goal of penetration testers and security developers to identify the weaknesses of systems—novel or complex—and work alongside engineers to not only prevent future attacks, but also optimize those systems for usability,” he said.
Martinez, who grew up in Lewis Center, Ohio, before eventually landing in Virginia with his family, attributed his competitiveness and his own innate curiosity for drawing him to computer security.
Martinez, who hopes to pursue a career in cybersecurity management and someday become a professor, credited his mentor Thomas Winston, an assistant professor for cyber security engineering within Volgenau, for having the greatest influence on him at Mason.
Winston called Martinez an “amazing person, with unbounded potential.”
“He was in many of my classes, always did an outstanding job and always showed the very best of student scholarship, motivation, drive and just overall interest,” Winston said of Martinez. “Honestly, I will likely remember Mitch for many years to come. He was a shining star in the cyber security program.”