Closing the Gap Advisory Board



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Alissa (Dr. Jay) Abdullah

Alissa (Dr. Jay) Abdullah


Senior Vice President & Deputy Chief Security Officer

As Mastercard’s Deputy Chief Security Officer, Allisa “Dr. Jay” Abdullah leads the Emerging Corporate Security Solutions team and is responsible for protecting Mastercard’s information assets and driving the future of security. Prior to Mastercard, Dr. Jay was the Chief Information Security Officer of Xerox, where she established and led a corporate-wide information risk management program. Dr. Jay also served as the Deputy Chief Information Officer of the White House, where she helped modernize the Executive Office of the President’s IT systems with cloud services and virtualization. 

Dr. Jay holds a PhD in Information Technology Management from Capella University, a master’s degree in Telecommunications and Computer Networks from The George Washington University, and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Savannah State University. 

COL Christa Chewar

COL Christa Chewar


Deputy Head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Professor
United States Military Academy

Colonel Christa Chewar is the Deputy Head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Professor at the United States Military Academy. She was commissioned into the U.S. Army Signal Corps after graduating from West Point in 1995. Her first assignment was in the 44th Signal Battalion in Kaposvar, Hungary and Mannheim, Germany as a platoon leader, logistics officer, and plans officer. She commanded a basic training company at Fort Jackson, SC and then went on to attend Virginia Tech from 2001-2004, where she earned a Master of Science in Computer Science (2003) and Ph.D. (2005), and returned to West Point to teach in the Computer Science Program.

Following her initial teaching assignment, Col. Chewar was assigned as the Data Chief for a DoD-level software acquisition program from 2008-2010, completed the Command and General Staff College, and deployed as the Iraq Chief of an Army Cyber team in 2010-2011. She then returned again to West Point and later served as the Computer Science Program Director from 2014-2019. During this time, she was a National Defense University Senior Service College Fellow at the College of Information and Cyberspace.

Rick Howard

Rick Howard


Chief Analyst, CSO, and Senior Fellow
The CyberWire

Rick Howard is Chief Analyst, CSO, and Senior Fellow at The CyberWire. He oversees the company risk management and security strategies as the company scales operations and expands its programming lineup.

Prior to joining The CyberWire, Mr. Howard served as Chief Security Officer at Palo Alto Networks, where he contributed to the company's internal security program. He also launched and led Unit 42, Palo Alto's threat intelligence team, while also serving as one of the company's public faces, providing thought leadership throughout the cybersecurity community. Before joining Palo Alto Networks, he held leadership roles as CISO at TASC, general manager of iDefense, and Security Operations Center (SOC) Director at Counterpane.

Mr. Howard also served in the U.S. Army for 23 years, the last two years of which he spent running the Army's CERT. He holds a Master's in Computer Science from the Naval Postgraduate School. He earned his undergraduate degree, a Bachelor of Science in engineering, from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He returned to the Academy later in his Army career to teach computer science. He has been executive editor of two books: Cyber Fraud: Tactics, Techniques and Procedures, and Cyber Security Essentials.

Abby Kinch, PhD

Abby Kinch, PhD


Vice President of Programs and Services
Student Veterans of America

As the Vice President of Programs and Services at Student Veterans of America, Dr. Abby Kinch is responsible for the creation, implementation and success of the myriad functions designed to empower veterans in higher education. Dr. Kinch has participated in SVA as a chapter member and chapter president at Florida State University, an SVA student council member, and an advisor. She has represented SVA in an advisory role to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Education, In Florida, she participated in the push for legislation to provide in-state tuition to veterans and gap fund payments to veterans with financial need during semester breaks. 

Prior to joining SVA, Dr. Kinch served in program management roles with IEM, a global emergency management and homeland security firm. She led the creation of the U.S. Intelligence Studies program within Florida State University’s College of Social Sciences. In 2013, Dr. Kinch was named a Presidential Management Fellow. Following an enlistment in the U.S. Air Force as an Airborne Chinese Cryptologic Linguist, Dr. Kinch worked in the private sector using the language skills the Air Force provided, until ultimately deciding to complete her undergraduate degree. 

Dr. Kinch holds a doctoral degree in Public Administration and Policy from Florida State University. She also earned a Master of Public Administration, a Master of Arts in Asian studies, and a Bachelor of Arts in Chinese Language and Culture as well as Linguistics.

Malia Mason

Malia Mason


Co-Founder & CEO

President & Co-Founder

Malia Mason is a United States Navy veteran, an ally, and advocate for equal representation. She is an established cybersecurity engineer and frequent conference speaker. Malia is the co-founder and CEO of Integrum, a cybersecurity consulting firm focusing on security compliance for small businesses and non-profit organizations. She is also the President and Co-Founder of CyberDEI as well as Chair of the Technology Committee for Malia had the distinct honor to be a community organizer for’s first-ever Women of Color in Tech conference in Los Angeles. She serves on the advisory board for 3 local community colleges, and mentors girls in middle school and high school at CyberTech Girls and GenCyber Girls. She frequently mentors veterans and mil-spouses and collaborates with various veterans' nonprofits.


Carolyn Renick

Carolyn Renick


Apprenticeship, Licensing and Credentialing Lead, Veterans Employment & Training Services
U.S. Department of Labor Vets

Carolyn Renick is the Apprenticeship, Licensing and Credentialing Lead in the Veterans Employment and Training Services (VETS) office, where she is leading the development and implementation of the new VETS Apprenticeship Pilot. This pilot will connect transitioning services members and military spouses with apprenticeship opportunities prior to separation from the military.

Prior to joining VETS, Ms. Renick worked in the U.S. Department of Labor’s National Office of Apprenticeship where she was the lead for business engagement and outreach. She developed innovative strategies to increase brand awareness through education and outreach efforts primarily focusing on the cybersecurity and financial services sectors. In addition, Ms. Renick worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics as a Senior Economist in the International Price Program where she specialized in industry analysis and system development in the collection, compilation and review of import and export price data.

James Schmeling

James Schmeling


President and CEO
National Defense University Foundation

NDUF’s President and CEO James Schmeling, J.D., has over 25 years of unparalleled experience in building and leading organizations focused on higher education, military veteran nonprofits, and public private partnerships. He focuses at NDUF on bringing resources and expertise to NDU, its leadership and faculty, and for its students across its five colleges and its research institutes. 

Most recently prior to joining the NDUF, James Schmeling, J.D., was Executive Vice President for Student Veterans of America, and he co-founded and was Managing Director for the Institute for Veterans and Military Families. 

Schmeling’s expertise includes building three research-focused institutes within premier public and private universities (the University of Iowa at the College of Law and Syracuse University), administering over $90 million in grant funding, writing and receiving $45 million in proposal awards, and being the principal investigator or co-principal investigator for over $16 million in funded projects.  Schmeling established and co-founded:

  • The Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University and was appointed its first managing director. 
  • The Coalition for Veteran Owned Business (CVOB) whose founding members included American Express, BP America, Fleishman Hillard, KKR, La Quinta, Lockheed Martin Corporation, SunTrust Banks, USAA, the U.S. Small Business Administration, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Verizon Communications Inc., Walmart and Sam’s Club, and the Walt Disney Company.
  • The Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University and was its COO and managing director.

Schmeling serves as:

  • Member of the Veterans Employment Advisory Committee for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes initiative
  • Member of the Board of Directors of Corporate America Supports You
  • Member of the Board of Directors of the Military Spouse Corporate Career Network

Schmeling also has been a guest lecturer at the Disney Institute Heroes Work Here Program and for Small Business Administration (SBA) veteran and spouse entrepreneurship education programs

Schmeling is a U.S. Air Force veteran, served for 6 years, and was honorably discharged as a sergeant.  Post-service he earned a B.A. in political science with a minor in international studies (Latin America) from Iowa State University and a Juris Doctorate (JD) with distinction from the University of Iowa College of Law.

Andy Sonn, Ed.D

Andy Sonn


Director, Military and Veteran Student Services
The George Washington University

Dr. Andy Sonn, Director of Military and Veteran Student Services, has worked in higher education for over 20 years. He was one of the founders of the centralized Office of Military and Veteran Student Services in 2008 and was the chair of GW's Yellow Ribbon Program Working Group. Dr. Sonn has published articles on student veteran support and training, assessment, residential life topics, and family orientations.

Dr. Sonn teaches as a visiting professor in GW's Higher Education Administration program in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development and earned his doctorate in Higher Education Administration from GW in 2010.

He enjoys reading military history, touring Civil War battlefields, hiking, Colonials basketball, Washington Nationals baseball, cycling, fly fishing, and watching his kids' sports games.






Shelly Heller, PhD

Dr. Shelly Heller


Director, GW SEAS Center for Women in Engineering (WiE)
The George Washington University

Professor Shelly Heller's research interest is in the area of computers in educational settings and the impact of interactive multimedia on learning in these environments. Expanding on her concerns for learning environments are her long-standing efforts to bring and retain women to areas in Science, Engineering, Math and Technology (STEM). Of particular interest is how students learn to use educational software, including the development of courseware for new application areas, the integration of the computer into existing educational settings and public spaces and in-service and pre-service teacher training.

Her efforts in women’s leadership include her research grants and her role as the director of the Elizabeth Somers Women's Leadership Program. Dr. Heller is the co-principal investigator of many National Science Foundation grants. The first, "Bringing Young Minority Women to the Threshold of Science," is designed to raise the interest of young women to studies in science and engineering. The second, "TEAMSS, Teacher Enhanced Application for Middle School Science with Hypermedia," is designed to enable teachers to use and re-use videodisc technology in their classrooms. FORWARD in SEM is a focus on reaching women for academics, research and development in Science, Engineering and Mathematics. It is an implementation project for the recruitment and retention of women in advanced science, engineering and mathematics careers in conjunction with Professors Catherine Mavriplis (University of Ottawa) and Paul Sabila (Gallaudet University). The work is presented in their FORWARD to Professorship: Inclusive Faculty Development Strategies that Work (Elsevier Press, 2015)

Costis Toregas, PhD

Dr. Costis Toregas


Director, GW Cyber Security and Privacy Research Institute (CSPRI)
The George Washington University

Costis Toregas is the Director of the Cyber Security and Privacy Research Institute at The George Washington University, where he manages and conducts research projects in cybersecurity. His research interests include workforce development, the role of insurance in cyber risk management, and exploring a fuller utilization of Community Colleges in the cybersecurity work force strategies.  He is a Senior Advisor & Director, Scholarship for Service (SFS) Four-Year to the National CyberWatch Center. He is a respected consultant to national governments and intergovernmental organizations, and a much sought-after speaker on the impact of technology in government and society. 

Dr. Toregas holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and a M.S. and a Ph.D. in Environmental Systems Engineering from Cornell University.

Taly Walsh

Taly Walsh


Assistant Director, GW SEAS Center for Women in Engineering (WiE)
The George Washington University

Taly Walsh serves as Assistant Director in support of the SEAS Center for Women in Engineering. She has an extensive career in technology non-profit organizations and the advancement of women in STEAM careers. She is also the Director of the National Cyber League (NCL), a non-profit organization helping cybersecurity students improve their hands-on skills by competing in challenges aligned to the NIST NICE Cybersecurity Workforce Framework. Ms. Walsh is a passionate advocate for women and underrepresented minorities, promoting the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion for the improvement of the workforce and society. In 2018, she became the first Executive Director for Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS) organization dedicated to recruiting, retaining and advancing women in the field of cybersecurity.

Previously, she held senior leadership positions at the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), InfoComm International (now AVIXA); and Public Technology,