As a longtime mentor to aspiring high school cybersleuths and college-aged engineers, Michael Plinski donates a precious commodity—his time—and generously gives his technical expertise and passion for security to future cybersecurity professionals.
In his day job, Plinski, a safety system oversight representative (SSOR) at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS), monitors the nuclear facilities at the Site to ensure worker and public safety from radioactive materials. In his free time, he volunteers to help set an ethical course for his acolytes to achieve great heights as “white hat,” or protective, cyber envoys.
Plinski, a mechanical engineer by training, cites his most personally rewarding volunteerism as working with his daughter at her high school.
The way I am involved with this group is that I teach them ethics, so they will be ‘white hat’ hackers. Knowing they are entering the field with these values, I couldn’t be prouder.
“At the end of her freshman year at Shadow Ridge High School, here in Las Vegas, my oldest daughter Victoria was interested in cybersecurity,” he said. “I decided this was a good way to spend quality time with her.”
The Flying Mustangs, as they call themselves, are part of the school’s Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC) program that competes in the CyberPatriot competitions. CyberPatriot is a nationwide youth competition open to middle- and high school-aged students to identify flaws and various cybersecurity vulnerabilities and promote computer security careers.
During an end-of-year-awards program at the school, Plinski heard about the impact he had on the dozens of students he had helped inspire through CyberPatriot summer camps and competitions.
“At the award ceremony, several seniors on the school’s Flying Mustangs team announced they were entering the cybersecurity field,” Plinski said. “The way I am involved with this group is that I teach them ethics, so they will be ‘white hat’ hackers. Knowing they are entering the field with these values, I couldn’t be prouder.”
Plinski also serves on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) College of Engineering Alumni Board and the UNLV Alumni Legacy Board. In these positions, he inspires students, fellow alumni and friends of the UNLV Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering.
“We [on the Alumni Board] support the college by providing input in development of academic programs such as the accredited bachelor and master cybersecurity program,” Plinski says.
The Board also serves as an advocate for the engineering college to encourage the legislature, board of regents and public to fund new engineering buildings on campus.
Additionally, Plinski works with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Silver State Section. As a liaison to current students, he interacts with the UNLV engineering student chapter to help provide speakers at meetings, support for ASME competitions and senior design projects, and obtain equipment, such as a 3D printer.
“I believe volunteering to improve our community helps make you a better person,” he concluded.