By Bob Fowler
Roane State staff writer
This Roane State Community College graduate now works at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, researching what he told an interviewer is “the cat-and-mouse game that is modern cybersecurity.”
Specifically, Samuel Hollifield Jr. is looking into ways to defend vehicles’ computer systems from being hacked. He’s a cybersecurity hardware engineer. “Never in my life would I think I’d have a job defending automotive networks,” he said.
His education at Roane State played a huge role in his career path, Hollifield said. “It sounds like a cliché, but Roane State, it changed my life,” he said. “I’m a huge cheerleader.”
A Kentucky native, Hollifield initially attended a community college there but had to withdraw as his late father’s health declined. Employed in the coal-mining industry and afflicted with black lung disease, his father died at age 56.
Hollifield moved to Knoxville, where he has family, in 2010. He worked as an insurance salesman for seven years. One day, as he was driving by Roane State’s Oak Ridge Branch Campus in 2017, he decided to investigate.
A meeting with George Meghabghab, director of the community college’s Computer Information Technology Program, changed his destiny. “He’s a special kind of person,” Hollifield said of Professor Meghabghab.
“I was always interested in technology and cars,” he said, “and at first, I thought I wanted to be a Web developer but then got interested in hardware engineering.”
Roane State Associate Professor Michael Chung was one of his favorite Roane State instructors.
“I enjoyed it that he didn’t just give the answer. He gave the rationale for the answer.”
Hollifield said Roane State’s computer labs and resources are “fantastic, and the instructors are top-notch.” He said his classes included an introduction to “hands-on hardware and how it interacts with software.”
He began studying cybersecurity as his knowledge of computers increased. Meghabghab, he said, “was very proactive about helping his students find jobs and internships.”
Hollifield was picked for an internship at ORNL in the Community College Internship Program in January 2018. His internship ran out as he graduated from Roane State with an associate degree in cybersecurity. He’s now pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering at Tennessee Tech, and that opened the door to another ORNL internship.
He was back at Roane State this summer, taking cybersecurity classes not available at Tech. He landed his full-time job at ORNL late last year.
On-board vehicle computers can be hacked somewhat easily because many automotive systems lack fault-proof security measures, and that makes them vulnerable, according to information from ORNL.
“I find it incredibly inspiring to do research in a challenging field that is still in its infancy,” Hollifield told an interviewer.
Hollifield, 30, and his wife Kayla are Rockwood residents.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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