Networking Brings Ulster BOCES Program Graduate Full Circle

Networking Brings Ulster BOCES Program Graduate Full Circle

Ulster BOCES means different things to different people. For Ashley Thacker, Ulster BOCES is not only the place she learned about cybersecurity and information technologies, but was also the first step in her post-college career.
Ashley graduated from New Paltz High School in 2021 after completing the Ulster BOCES Cisco & Cybersecurity program at the Ulster BOCES Career & Technical Center. She received her Bachelor of Science in Computer Security & Information Assurance from Norwich University in April 2024 and began working for Ulster BOCES Instructional Services as a Network Support Specialist in early May. “I feel like this is a full circle moment, coming back to work at Ulster BOCES after being an Ulster BOCES graduate,” said Ashley.

Ashley has always enjoyed tinkering with computers, doing everything from using them to play games to taking them apart to see what was inside. “When I was given the opportunity to finally get hands on with the hardware and software at Ulster BOCES, I was excited,” she explained. During her time in the Cisco & Cybersecurity program, Ashley completed TestOut certification courses in Linux and PC Pro during Grade 11 and Network and Security Pro in Grade 12. TestOut certifications are industry recognized credentials in 16 states. She also learned about personal computer hardware and software, and how they interact. In fact, after completing the program Ashley built her own personal computer. Cisco & Cybersecurity instructor Dr. Kathy Landers was her favorite teacher and the person who encouraged her to apply to her current position.

“While I was at Ulster BOCES, I was able to get a general idea of which areas in the field of cybersecurity I liked,” said Ashley. “After graduation, I went to Norwich University to continue my education. There, I studied cybersecurity and information assurance with a forensic concentration just to get more into the cyber side, which is what really interests me.” During her time at Norwich, Ashley completed an internship with the New York State Bridge Authority. Here, Ashley used many of the skills she learned at Ulster BOCES when taking apart laptops to replace parts. She was able to use her work experience from the internship to fine-tune what she wanted to do after getting her degree.
“When I started looking for a job, Dr. Landers sent me the posting for the position at Ulster BOCES, and I knew right away that it was what I wanted to do,” said Ashley. “Not only was it close to home, but I could give back to the system that gave so much to me.” 

Ashley is currently managing the phone system and providing assistance at the Help Desk for Ulster BOCES Instructional Services. She troubleshoots issues people have with their telephones, which can range from resetting a voicemail pin or setting up call forwarding, to figuring out why a phone is making certain noises or not dialing out properly. She enjoys the work environment and the people she comes into contact with while doing her job. One day, she would like to transition into cybersecurity and eventually “ethical hacking,” or penetration testing, which involves finding vulnerabilities in a company's system so they can be fixed.

Many of the skills Ashley learned at Ulster BOCES are the basis for what she is doing today. “I am using the behind-the-scenes stuff, networking and understanding how hardware and software work together,” she said. Her advice to current students is to “take any opportunity to get your name out there. Get out in the field, even if it is just doing work around the building; that is still an experience you can use when you go off to work.” 

Gaining hands-on, real-world experience through Ulster BOCES helped Ashley know what she wanted to do before heading to college, and it set her on the road towards a successful career.

“Ashley has become a valued member of our team in the short time that she has been with us,” said Sarah Dudley-Lemek, Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services at Ulster BOCES. “We are excited to see her continue to grow in her skills and profession.”

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