Graduation Tales | Holly’s passion is to inspire more women into STEM

Holly Proud-Street graduation 2024, Masters in cyber security

The International Convention Centre Wales in Newport has once again seen thousands of our graduates cross the stage in their cap and gown. To celebrate, we are sharing the stories of some of our inspirational students.

Holly Proud-Street has an ambition - to get more women to follow her lead and to pursue a career in STEM.

And after having overcome some major challenges – such as serious injuries sustained in a paragliding accident and emigration plans being scuppered by the COVID pandemic – you can bet she’ll see her ambitions through.

Holly’s push to get more women into the science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) fields has been developing during her time studying at the University of South Wales (USW).

In 2019 she graduated from USW with a first-class honours degree in Forensic Investigation, and this week again walked across the stage to receive her Masters in Cyber Security.

The road to achieving a her qualifications hasn’t been a smooth one for Holly. After the paragliding accident in Turkey in 2018, the now 27-year-old Holly and her then partner James decided that ‘life is too short to wait’ and got married, with the intention of emigrating to Canada soon after. However, the impact the pandemic had on international travel in spring 2020 meant that the couple had to stay in Wales.

As Holly hadn’t pursued a career in forensics following her graduation as her move abroad was imminent, the COVID lockdowns meant she wasn’t working. This all changed, however, a year into the pandemic when she secured work in a lab that was used to check COVID tests.

And, while there, Holly took the first step towards returning to study.

“When I was working at the lab I met a couple of data scientists and heard all about their jobs and I found that really interesting, and they suggested I should give something like that a go,” Holly said.

“I was expecting the job at the lab to carry on after the pandemic, so didn’t really do much about it, but was then made redundant and I was just kind of trying to work out what to do with my life. I had my forensics degree, but because I have a disability and can’t drive I was unable to get a job in that field, so was thinking about what I could do next.”

Having been motivated by her new data scientist friends, Holly decided a slight change of direction was needed and started researching cyber security as a career option due to its similarities to forensics.

“I looked at the Cyber security Masters course that was on offer at USW. I’d really enjoyed my undergrad degree at the University and thought it looked very interesting, so started the course in autumn 2022, graduating with a distinction a year later,” she said.

Such was Holly’s impact in the course, she also found herself as a finalist in a national award – narrowly missing out on the Cyber Student of the Year honour at the National Cyber Awards.

During her time studying, Holly was also able to focus on one of her passions – how to get more women and girls, who are currently underrepresented in the sectors, interested in STEM subjects.

“My thesis focused on the overlooked women in cryptography, emphasising the absence of female role models in cybersecurity and STEM overall,” Holly said.

“The national curriculum particularly lacks this representation. I did try to raise this with the Welsh Government, but was unsuccessful, so have been shifting my focus towards smaller-scale efforts, such as working with local schools on workshops highlighting women in STEM, through which I’d aim to inspire and break gender barriers from an early age.

“I have also created a website as part of my thesis, showcasing female cryptographers, and I plan to expand it through collaboration with schools.”

While at the National Cyber Awards, Holly also met Sir Dermot Turing – the nephew of Alan Turing, the famous codebreaker who helped to crack the Nazi Enigma machine, a move which ultimately accelerated the end of World War II.

“I shared my work with him, leading to a suggestion that I collaborate with the National Computer Science Museum,” she said. “I'll be presenting my work there at a Digital Future Education Day, which I’m hoping will support my aim to become the visible role model I wished for when I was younger.”

Looking to the future, Holly hopes she’ll soon be able to find a job which will enable her to support her passions.

“My primary preference is a role that allows me to make a real-world difference,” she said.

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