Through the combination of drive and determination, academic preparation through the computer science program, and leadership and vocational training through ROTC, Christopher Pozgay leaves PennWest Clarion’s spring 2023 commencement ready to meet his career goals. He holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science with a cybersecurity concentration and a minor in leadership, and he is commissioned as a second lieutenant and cyber capabilities developer in the prestigious, competitive Cyber Operations branch of the United States Army. He was selected for one of 68 Cyber Operations slots available to 2023 ROTC graduates nationwide.
Pozgay's journey began in middle school, when his father – who served 21 years in the Army, including in Vietnam – passed away from cancer. His mom relocated to the Clarion area to be closer to her parents. At age 17, during his senior year at Clarion Area High School, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves and was assigned as a signal support specialist in the 303rd Tactical Psychological Operations Company.
After graduating from high school and completing Army basic training, Pozgay, the youngest of 11 children, was back home in Clarion with his mom when she gave him a dose of tough love.
“Chris, I love you and I want you to do what you want to do, but if you want to continue living here without paying rent, you have to enroll for classes,” his mom told him.
“I knew Clarion had a computer science program, and (the campus was) right down the road from where we lived,” Pozgay said. “I enrolled in ROTC and computer science, thinking that even if didn’t stay in the (ROTC) program, I could keep up to par on my soldier skills.”
He noted that students who commission through the ROTC program are provided a minor in leadership.
“It’s not academically taxing. It’s a wholistic approach to leadership. By completing the program, you are guaranteed you will have been in a position of being responsible for other adults,” he said.
When he entered Clarion’s computer science program, everything was new to him.
“I had tinkered with computers and had built a few, but I had never actually programmed anything,” he said. “I went from a very basic level (of knowledge) to now understanding how computers function.”
He describes Clarion’s computer science faculty as the most professional, approachable and competent professors he’s ever met. He recalls his Intro to Programming class, when Dr. Jody Strausser’s patience and ability to break down topics so they’re accessible helped him to develop the foundationhe needed to excel.
“Everyone (at PennWest Clarion) is amazing, but I was struck by how easy it was to say, ‘Hey, I’m stuck on this thing,’ and receive the help I needed. Jody literally moved an appointment to help me with something,” Pozgay said. “They are very much student-first. They would rather lose some personal time than to have you not understand a topic.”
During his freshman year, while still an enlisted member of the Army Reserves, Pozgay transferred to a cyber protection team and trained in cyber operations.
“It all made sense to me, and it was exciting. I took courses online during COVID, made active duty pay, and it worked out really well,” he said.
His ROTC experience folded into the academic aspect of his education.
“In ROTC, you have no clue what branch you’ll go into. It’s not guaranteed unless you receive a scholarship from a certain branch, and most often the nursing corps is where that’s offered. For non-scholarship cadets, your assignment is based more on needs and wants of the Army,” Pozgay said. “To be competitive for the branch you want, you have to show some drive. I worked hard to show that if they put me anywhere but Cyber Operations, they’d be fools.”
In summer 2022, Pozgay completed the cadet summer training course, which is mandatory to pass to receive commission. Then, he moved to a month-long internship in advanced cybersecurity with the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
“We learned some of the basic to intermediate skills that are involved in hacking. How do you know what is on a network without being there? How do you decipher various forms of cryptography?” he said. “By providing us with this understanding, we can better prepare against attacks through defensive means such as more stringent security policies and making sure software is up to date.”
His next stop is Fort Gordon, Georgia, home of the Cyber Center of Excellence, where the Army sends signal corps officers and cyber operations to get their training.
“My training for this job will take a year to complete. Because of the job for which I was selected, I have a six-year active-duty service obligation,” Pozgay said. “The Army wants to get its money’s worth from the investment.”
Pozgay’s tuition at Clarion was covered by his father’s GI Bill. His own GI Bill will be used toward a master’s degree, preferably in computer science, after he completes his yearlong training at Fort Gordon. He said the Army encourages officers to continue their education, providing Advanced Civil Schooling – sending an officer on orders to attend university full time to receive a master’s degree.