McNair Scholars Profile: Program Paved Alum’s Path to Graduate School Success

Before he settled on computer science, Leni Halaapiapi was going to school for mechanical engineering.

All of that changed when the 2019 CWU alum took his first computer science class and saw his passions for math and technology converge into one rapidly growing, cutting-edge field just waiting to be explored: nuclear cybersecurity.

As a first-gen student, Halaapiapi took an exploratory approach and dove into his CWU education with an eagerness to learn both in the classroom and in the field.

“Being a first-generation student is hard, because you don’t really have your family telling you what to do, where to go, or what to expect,” Halaapiapi said. “You’re the first one of them to ever go through something like this. I learned quickly, though, and during my freshman year, I made sure to take advantage of all that Central has to offer, which led me to McNair.”

He now attends Oregon State University, where he’s researching the cybersecurity measures necessary to safeguard nuclear power plants as they transition to digital infrastructures. It’s critical work, and it all started with the support and encouragement he received in the McNair Scholars program. Halaapiapi paired that opportunity with his hunger for knowledge, and now he’s conducting critical research that will make the world a better, safer place.

“McNair is a great program,” he said. “Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today—in grad school, doing research on nuclear cybersecurity. I have so much gratitude for being picked to be part of the program, and getting to meet so many great people along the way.”

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