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Get to know a few of SIA WISF’s scholarship winners

Get to know a few of SIA WISF’s scholarship winners


YARMOUTH, Maine—Last month, the Security Industry Association (SIA) — with the help of the organization’s Scholarship Selection Committee and Human Resources Committee — chose 12 recipients for the inaugural Women in Security Forum (WISF) Scholarship, a program developed by WISF to further educational opportunities and promote advancement for a diverse security workforce.

“The SIA Women in Security Forum continues to break new ground, inspire me and many others, and provide unique opportunities for the widest spectrum of people possible to thrive in this field through initiatives like this new scholarship offering,” SIA CEO Don Erickson said in the announcement. “We congratulate this talented and historic first class of SIA Women in Security Forum Scholarship winners and look forward to celebrating their many accomplishments to come.”

Each of the following awardees received $6,650 from generous donors within the security industry to use toward continuing education and professional development courses, conferences or webinars; SIA program offerings; repayment of student loan debt and/or other academic or education programs:

  • Ryane Burke, partner marketing and events manager, Identiv;

  • Margurie Evans, SIA student member; event security lead, Phoenix Suns;
  • Antoinette King, key account manager – end user, Axis Communications;
  • Kavya Madhusudhan, senior project engineer, Allegion;
  • Erin Mann, customer experience and strategy marketing manager, multifamily, Allegion Canada Inc.;
  • Daphne Navarro, SIA student member;
  • Sheethal Rao, mechanical engineer, Allegion;
  • Jenna Rolfe, SIA student member; junior readiness and security policy officer, Global Affairs Canada;
  • Joneka Russell, security officer, Allied Universal;
  • Holly Sanson, marketing manager, ADT Commercial;
  • Kerri Sutherland, human resources business partner, Axis Communications; and
  • Rachel Wyatt-Swanson, director of business development, Cherokee Nation Security & Defense.

As a fellow member of WISF and a security industry journalist, I had the pleasure of speaking with a few of the scholarship winners. Listening to each heart-felt story allowed me to capture the essence of and put into perspective the core of our industry. I invite you to pause for a few minutes and really hear what these women had to say.

A fluke, but the best one ... ever

Erin Mann dedicated four years at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, and upon graduation, she didn’t have a job.

"It was really tough for me because I was a really involved student,” Mann told Security Systems News. “I had so many extracurriculars; I considered myself a high performer … ‘I’ll have no problem getting a job,’ she told herself.”

She paused, smiled and giggled. “Didn’t work out for me.”

She ended up moving home with her parents, only to discover that was the best thing that could have happened for her because it gave her some time to sit back and really appreciate that she just went through four years of school.

"I made several meaningful connections; what I learned was incredible; and I needed a couple of weeks ‘off,’” she said.

Afterwards she did what most college graduates do: sent out job applications and posted her resume at various places, but it was a call during a shopping trip that changed everything.

"It was a total fluke!” Mann laughed, when asked how she got into the security industry. “I was actually in Home Depot with my aunt looking at door knobs and I got an email from a recruiter from Allegion who found my resume online and said I was a great match for an entry-level marketing position. I had no idea what Allegion was because at the time, it had only spun off from Ingersoll Rand three years prior.”

She did her research and called her dad asking, ‘hey, do you know anything about Schlage?’ He answered, ‘oh yeah, they make great door locks.’ So, she accepted the recruitment call, had a few follow up calls and was brought in for interviews.

"Within a two-week window, [I] was offered the position; packed my bags, moved from Cleveland [to Canada] and haven’t looked back since,” she said.

So, talk about a fluke … it was approximately two and a half years before Mann decided to really get involved in the industry, seeking out opportunities. For her, it all started when she applied for (and received) the SIA RISE Scholarship at a time when she was starting her third role with the company. 

"It was a really sexy position,” she said, “working with ‘MegaTechs’ and the future of the industry and the way access control is changing. I was like, ‘wow, this is the cool side of the business!’"

Mann credits SIA’s RISE community for getting her involved within the industry as a whole, blooming out into other opportunities, such as the WISF.

When Mann found out about the first-ever WISF scholarship, she went back and forth internally just because she had recently won the RISE Scholarship back in 2019 and she used that to do take some online courses that helped her with the role that she was in. 

"I have been doing a lot for the industry from an inclusion and diversity standpoint … female empowerment is a huge cause for me so I’m trying to ramp up my involvement within the industry,” she explained. “This might be another good way to benefit from some of the groups that have the same interests that I do.”

Finally arriving at a decision of ‘why not?’ with the allure that the scholarship funds could be used for loan repayment, Mann submitted her application.

"I actually sent in my application on the last day,” she admitted. “I was absolutely shocked but totally honored to be chosen, and the fact that it was double what it was supposed to be was an extra surprise!”

(The original scholarship amount was around $3,000; however, because of the generosity of donors, it jumped up by over half!)

Mann lives by her mother’s mantra in which she and her sister were raised with and she offers it to other women as advice: ‘if you do something, do it to the best of your ability, do it so well that no one can take your achievements away from you.’

"That's been really central to how I approach anything,” she explained. “If you don’t give anyone a reason to try and take ‘it’ away from you, they can’t.”

In the same breath, Mann added that in addition to her mother’s words the following must be added: “When you experience someone putting their hand out to pull you up, your responsibility is to extend your other hand and pull someone up with you. The best thing that women can do in the industry, especially one that is still slightly male dominated, is to use the trail that you blaze to make it easier for people coming after you.”

It's all about embracing opportunities

Mechanical engineer, Sheethal Rao, views SIA's WISF as a valuable opportunity.

"SIA-WISF is a great connecting platform as well as an opportunity to budding engineers like me to get connected with security professionals and grow in this competitive industry,” Rao explained to SSN.

Determined to set an example for other women within the security industry as it strives to keep the world safe and security with necessary products and technologies, she encourages women that the security industry is no longer a male dominate industry.

"I see women working in high profile positions and leading the industry,” Rao noted. “I strive to set an example for women and let them know that the security industry is no different from other verticals and it provides equal career opportunities to grow. There is constant need for technology and innovation in the security industry; hence, I would like to ask women to consider opportunities in the security industry.”

Taking her own advice, she discovered the SIA WISF Scholarship in one of Allegion’s internal articles and she was encouraged to apply. This was yet another opportunity to embrace.

"Being a woman, I want to stay competitive in the mechanical domain,” said Rao. “This scholarship proved to be a good platform for me to learn and grow in my career.”

Rao is planning on using her scholarship winnings to pursue and take courses that enhance her technical and managerial skills as she believes this will enable her to provide innovative solutions and products to the market and contribute to new business opportunities within the industry. But this scholarship also did something for her that, quite frankly, money can’t buy.

"Winning the scholarship uplifted my confidence and self-belief," she said.

Within the course of our conversation, Rao mentioned that she sees it as an “honor” to be a part of SIA and WISF to encourage diversity within the safety and security industry. To help promote more of this, along with inclusivity, she believes the right place to initiate change is at the college campus level.

"Campus industry drives and initiatives for female graduates to help them understand the potential opportunities in the security industry [is necessary],” explained Rao. “Also, organizations can help maintain an appropriate gender ratio by providing equal opportunities to women. Making any organization a safe place to work; treating all employees equally; and not showing any discrimination based on race, gender and disability promotes inclusivity, diversity and women more within the security industry.”

The opportunities are there; just take action.

For the love of security

Growing up as Chickasaw Native American, Rachel Wyatt-Swanson feels very lucky and was actively involved in the Chickasaw Nation.

"They provided me several scholarships in college so I could go to American university and intern for federal agencies in college,” Wyatt-Swanson told SSN, adding that she always knew working in government was something she wanted to do.

She took action, transforming her 'want' into reality.

"I started working on Capitol Hill for Congressman Joel Hefley out of Colorado Springs, Colorado,” she said. “He did some work on the Armed Services Committee and I got pretty involved with that, working as their legislative aid in the system for about a year.”

Afterwards, Wyatt-Swanson went to work for Northrup Grumman running their business development for their anti-terrorism force protection group. “We held the Navy anti-terrorism force protection contract and were very successful,” she said. “It started me down the physical security path.”

After of doing anti-terrorism force protection, Wyatt-Swanson discovered that security was her calling.

"The thing that I love about security is, you get to protect either your country’s or your company’s two most vital assets, which are first and foremost, its people and it’s about safety and, then secondly, their facilities an all of their infrastructure,” she explained. “I go to bed at night and sleep pretty well knowing that I help secure and make the world a safer place.”

Wyatt-Swanson has always had a passion for promoting women, increasing her career objectives and looking for mentors and people that she can mentor. She found SIA really gives people the opportunities and ability to get involved and participate in whatever passion suits them within the industry.

"A friend of mine and I actually wrote a paper about the need and importance of more women managers in the security field,” she noted. “At the same time, they [SIA] were putting together the Women in Security Forum. I attended their first meeting at ISC West and recently joined their membership committee and will be reaching out to potential new members and helping to really grow the security industry.”

As a winner of WISF’s scholarship, Wyatt-Swanson initially thought she would obtain her PMP or her certified capture manager credential, but after much consideration, she felt it would be better used paying off some of her student loans.

"I received my MBA in 2015 from the University of Maryland and I’ve been working very hard to try and pay those [student loans] down over the years,” she said. “This scholarship will actually satisfy over 50 percent of that repayment. That will allow me to get more continuing education classes from SIA in the future.”

Wyatt-Swanson definitely recommends the security industry as a viable, supportive industry for women to seek out and consider for a career.

"The security industry is a wonderful industry where you’re able to give back,” she said. “More importantly, you’re able to create a safe atmosphere and environment for those around you and in the world.”

As a supporter of mentorship, she recommends that people joining the security industry reach out and find a mentor to gain guidance from.

"The people that I’ve interacted with, met and worked with throughout the last 15 years in the security industry have really help shape me and guide me, and allowed me to grow in the right environments and the right opportunities as my career has flourished.” 

At the end of the day, when she turns her light out in her office to head home, a sense of pride washes over her.

"Cherokee Federal gives 100 percent of its profits back to the Cherokee Nation,” said Wyatt-Swanson. “[These profits] then go on to support education programs, health programs, construction programs to make lives better for the Cherokee Nation throughout the United States and on its tribal land there in Eastern Oklahoma. It’s something I’m really proud of, working for a company that literally dedicates a hundred percent of its resources to go back to the tribe or to strengthen one of the businesses. It’s really incredible to see what the tribes overall, but especially the Cherokee Nation, can do.”


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