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The College of Business and Public Policy prepares students for leadership at the frontiers of a changing world. Our “Real-World Solutions” series focuses on students and graduates who are applying their expertise to meet today’s challenges and make a meaningful impact in our communities.

Real World Solutions: Cybersecurity Director Reflects on Key UAA Lessons

September 17, 2021
Mitch Kitter Mitch Kitter

One of the most common methods cybercriminals use to gain access to systems and information is to target and trick individuals through phishing schemes or social engineering. Making employees and customers aware of the methods that hackers employ is a vital aspect of cybersecurity.

Mitch Kitter, MBA ’21, works in this realm as Director of Security Architecture and Planning for GCI. Another integral part of his job is recommending strategies to enterprise decision makers. Protecting systems that cybercriminals target must be balanced with providing employees access to the same systems so they can do their jobs effectively. Erring too far on either side creates the opportunity for negative business impacts to occur.

Kitter wouldn’t have predicted this career path when he started as an undergraduate at UAA. As he discovered, you never know when a college course may spark interest in a new industry or align with opportunities that come up along the way.

“Undergraduate studies help round you out as a professional,” Kitter said. “In the moment, you are asking, ‘Why am I taking this course?’ But really, these courses provide a foundation for areas we work on every day in the real world.”

Kitter began college after graduating from South High School in Anchorage. But he paused when life offered other pursuits, including running a photography studio (The Studio) with his husband Shalem. A return to UAA gave Kitter essential knowledge on how to improve efficiencies and promote the business. As a non-traditional student who was also working, he got a lot of value out of the program. “I’d go to class and then literally go back to The Studio and apply the concept we had just learned.”

He graduated ten years after starting, with a Bachelor of Business Arts majoring in Marketing and Management. In 2016 Kitter joined GCI’s marketing department and learned quickly that project management skills were in high demand. A few of the courses he had taken at UAA touched on organizational theory and project management. He was inspired to go on to earn the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute.

GCI offers a tuition reimbursement program that took his education even further – this time in pursuit of an MBA, which was a huge life goal. “One of the things that is so great about GCI is its commitment to education and developing the workforce,” he said. While working on his MBA at CBPP, Kitter’s career path at GCI was also picking up steam. He was promoted to Sr. Manager, and then transitioned from marketing to the security team, where he was promoted to Director of Security Architecture and Planning.

Mitch Kitter with his family

“My first view into security was in a computer concept course taught by Dr. Bogdan Hoanca. Later, in a Machine Learning course led by Dr. Helena Wisniewski, I had an eye-opening experience in how AI is shaping the future of cybersecurity.” GCI needed someone who could both lead teams, manage projects, and address cybersecurity challenges. Kitter’s background fit perfectly into that role. “I work with a team of people who are incredibly talented in the cybersecurity field. They define what resources are needed and we work together to continuously improve GCI’s security capability.”

To be effective supporting his team, Kitter relies on skills he practiced at UAA. “Presentation skills are the foundation for many things you do every day at work,” he said. “You have to organize your thoughts and communicate them clearly to encourage action. In cybersecurity, you are identifying new threats, risks, and trends. You need to make the business case for why decision makers should care and why they should support change within the organization. Practicing presentation skills will help you influence others with well-formed arguments for outcomes you want to see happen.”

The ability to negotiate is also critical to those discussions. Kitter said his UAA Negotiation and Conflict Management course provided space to practice building dialogue and trust to come up with mutual solutions. “One of the things I thought before taking this class is that there are winners and losers, with each receiving a share of the pie. But the course taught me to consider what I need, what others need, and what the business needs so we can make the pie bigger for everyone.”

Coming up with immediate solutions for managing work, home life, and his health loomed large just a year and a half ago, when Kitter was diagnosed with leukemia. The support of his family, friends, and colleagues at GCI helped him power through an intensive nine-month treatment period out of state. This year he was able to continue treatment in Anchorage and happily added earning an MBA from UAA to his list of accomplishments in May. Another new addition? Kitter and his husband welcomed their infant son Porter to their family. That makes Kitter’s own pie bigger – and sweeter – than ever.