Each morning during the work week, Benjamin Nelson’s alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m., and his loyal golden retrievers are right by his side to hold him accountable.

“Of course, there are some mornings I don’t want to get out of bed, but I know that it has to be done,” said Nelson. “I’m in the books by 4:45.”

After more than two decades in the aviation industry, Nelson admitted that it took a little while to get back in the groove of schoolwork, but the North Carolina native is now excelling in his cybersecurity program and plans to walk across the stage this spring with a bachelor’s degree from Montreat College.

From his home south of Greensboro, North Carolina, the former avionics technician reflected on his path to becoming a cybersecurity professional.

What motivated you to return to school?
In 2020, I looked at the wall in my office and I didn’t have anything on it. I want my legacy to be that of someone who embraced risk upon the realization of their worth, and I think I’ve done that. I realized what I was worth, and I knew there were things I could do.

I’ve been in aviation most of my life. I spent a few years with the Air Force, so that started things off. In my last job, I was doing avionics work with a flight test team. We traveled around quite a bit, and I recognized that traveling all the time just wasn’t good for my family. I needed to slow down a little bit and leave that for the younger guys. My parents are aging, and they live about 45 minutes south of me. One of the greatest gifts that you can give is to take care of those who took care of you as you were growing up. One of the biggest goals I have right now is for them to actually see their son graduate.

What was it like for you to resume your education after a 20-year break?
You have to get in that groove. Adult and graduate studies are about discipline. You have to be able to manage your work and your school and be able to manage your family at the same time. Sometimes you have to take a huge step back to take a few steps forward. I had a lot of doubts and self-reservations before I actually started classes, and maybe my first semester was a little rocky, but everything took off beyond that.

I asked the Lord to provide me direction and show me his way, not my own. Every day is a new day, and here I am about to finish the program. It’s incomprehensible to me that I’m getting ready to graduate this spring with my bachelor’s and a cybersecurity degree.

How did you learn about Montreat College?
I’ve always been interested in IT and cybersecurity, so I left everything that I was comfortable with and trusted in the Lord to lead me in the right direction. I enrolled at Guilford Technical Community College, and I completed my associate degree in their cybersecurity program. That’s when I transferred to Montreat. Through a lot of prayer, I was led here, and everything’s just fallen into place ever since. Of course, it helps that Montreat has one of the top cybersecurity programs in the country.

How many classes are you taking at a time?
I’m taking two at a time. When I started the program, I wanted to attend full-time, but I’m glad my advisor brought me back down and convinced me to take the two classes at a time in eight-week increments. I don’t see how anybody can handle more than that while working.

What is your career goal?
The area of cybersecurity that I’m most interested in is governance, risk management, and compliance (GRC). Few people want to do that in this field. A lot of people want to be a pen tester, but I’m more interested in the paperwork side of it. Those who harbor the most sensitive information should be held to the standards of protecting it, and you hear a lot about data breaches and just making sure that these companies aren’t just getting by with the bare minimums, but they’re actually doing what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s wonderful having a cybersecurity program at a Christian college because ethics plays such a huge role in cybersecurity. You have to have a strong moral compass, and you have to have a strong ethical framework for yourself.

What are the biggest benefits of Montreat’s AGS program?
The biggest benefit is being able to do everything online. There’s no way I could go to a classroom, manage my full-time job, and take care of my family at the same time. Another pro is the class sizes. When you only have a few people in a class, you have more interaction with the instructor. The instructor interaction I’ve had has been top-notch.

How has Montreat supported you?
Between my first two semesters at Montreat, Rob Roth, the Interim Associate Dean of Montreat College’s Adult and Graduate Studies, personally reached out to me. For somebody at that high level in the school to reach out and make sure everything was right really spoke volumes to the fact that I’m not lost in the mix with everyone else. My advisor has also always been there to give me the extra push I needed to continue.

What advice would you give to others considering returning to school?
Without a doubt, without any hesitation, do it. Take those steps to make yourself better because only you can do that. I didn’t want to find myself 20 years down the road wishing I had done what I’m doing now. It’s never too late to get a good start. You have to realize your worth.

Why would you recommend Montreat College to someone?
First, Montreat is a faith-based college. Also, you’re not lost in the mix at Montreat College. You have great interaction with not only your instructors, but administration as well. They make sure you have the tools you need to be successful. My faith is important to me because it has guided me throughout my life, and I couldn’t see myself going anywhere else.