Jen Easterly, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security, was presented the prestigious 2022 Rear Admiral Grace Hopper Award by Cassandra C. Lewis, chancellor of the College of Information and Cyberspace at National Defense University. The award ceremony, including a moderated "fireside chat," took place on historic Fort McNair and was livestreamed publicly on defense.gov.
Easterly has a long list of accomplishments spanning the public and private sectors. The organization she heads aims to lead the national effort to understand, manage and reduce risk to cyber and physical infrastructure.
The award is named after the legendary "Amazing Grace" Hopper, an early pioneer and leader in computing. Hopper served as faculty of the college decades ago when it was called the DOD Computer Institute. Marine Lt. Gen. Lori Reynolds was the inaugural recipient of the award in 2021, with the ceremony being held in the college's Hopper Auditorium.
The award recognizes distinguished individuals who are influential in advancing the fields of information and cyberspace in the national security community, as well as those who have a track record of advancing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in support of a stronger workforce.
As noted in his welcoming remarks as president of NDU, Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Plehn reminded the audience of Hopper's inspiring legacy and the appropriateness of the award being presented during Women's History Month.
In what some observers described as "a master class on leadership", Easterly's remarks at the event had an ever-present theme of values — beginning with the inspiration her father provided. Her father, a U.S. Army Vietnam veteran, instilled a sense of service that propelled her to West Point as a young woman and carried her far beyond.
Diversity as "a force multiplier," as described by Lewis, played a prominent role in Easterly's remarks. Easterly explained, "All types of diversity, whether that's neurodiversity, diversity of gender identity, diversity of sexual orientation, race, national origin, age, background…that all equals diversity of thought. And you have to have diversity of thought to be able to come together and solve the incredibly challenging problems that we're dealing with in cyberspace. My experience is that the more diverse teams that you have, with people bringing different types of approaches to solving problems, [the more] you will be able to solve problems better, faster, easier, smarter."
On leadership, she explained, "It goes back to values and the principles of how you build a great organization, and how you attract and retain talent…is that everybody feels not just safe, not just welcomed, not just celebrated, but truly cherished for who they are. I believe leaders have to create the magic of that environment, which is really about psychological safety. Where you can be yourself, your authentic self, where you feel respected by your colleagues, empowered by your leaders, and where you feel like you're making a difference every day. You can ask hard questions, you can give real feedback, because everybody's focused on doing the right thing for the mission."
The College of Information and Cyberspace is one of five regionally accredited graduate colleges at NDU. The college offers a Master of Science degree and various graduate certificates for members of the national security community. Tuition is free for all eligible Defense Department personnel. The M.S. degree is delivered in a 10-month, resident format, conferring Joint Professional Military Education Phase II credit to centrally selected U.S. military officers, and via a part-time, remote format. More information about the school can be found at https://cic.ndu.edu/. A recording of the entire event can be found on defense.gov and the Agency's YouTube channel.