Carnegie Mellon University

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June 07, 2024

INI Alum Sears Schulz Places Third in President’s Cup Cybersecurity Competition

By Evan Lybrand

INI Communications

sears_presidents_cup_2.pngInformation Networking Institute (INI) alum Sears Schulz (’22) has secured a third-place finish in the fifth President’s Cup Cybersecurity Competition. Hosted by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the President’s Cup highlights and awards the technical prowess of the federal workforce through a competition based on real-world challenges faced by those in the field. Schulz currently serves as a Captain in the Air Force on a Cyber Protection Team, which conducts defensive cyber operations.  

This was not the first time Schulz attended the President’s Cup. In 2019, during its inaugural competition, he took home first place in the individual division. Now serving as a 1st Lieutenant in the Air Force as a member of Devensive Cyber Operations, Schulz develop an interest in cybersecurity in his senior year of high school. He followed his passion by attending the Air Force Academy, focusing on cybersecurity. Schulz continued to immerse himself in competitions, and by his senior year he was the captain of their cyber competition team. 

In 2020, Schulz enrolled at the INI in the Master of Science in Information Security (MSIS) program, an interdisciplinary degree program that includes core courses in systems, networking, security and business and management. He found himself drawn to the highly regarded reputation of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and the wide variety of technical courses and expert faculty. “When I would look at different cybersecurity master programs across the U.S., the INI had a lot more variety of technology-focused classes in cybersecurity and so many opportunities to explore different areas,” he said. 

As Schulz continued his studies, competitions still held his interest. He regularly participated in various challenges throughout his time at the INI and in 2022, he was chosen to join the first-ever U.S. Cyber Team as the CTF Captain. Schulz competed on the world stage, representing the United States in international cybersecurity competitions. Schulz continued with the U.S. Cyber Team as head captain in 2023.  

When not competing in Capture the Flags (CTFs) and other challenges, Schulz was working on his MSIS degree. He had chosen the four-semester advanced option that culminates in a Master’s thesis. Schulz’s thesis focused on distributed fuzzing, a technique used to probe a system for vulnerabilities by automatically supplying the program with random inputs to attempt to cause an error. CMU CyLab Project Scientist Maverick Woo was his thesis advisor, and Schulz recognized his positive influence and guidance. “He really pushed me for those two semesters,” said Schulz. “He taught me how to read research papers and how to take a challenging problem and figure it out on my own.” 

Self-reliance was not the only lesson Schulz took from the INI. Along with deep knowledge and technical skills, he also learned the importance of clear communication. “It’s important to learn how to communicate effectively with someone who doesn't have that technical knowledge — how you explain what the impact of a certain vulnerability is,” said Schulz. He attributes much of his knowledge of how best to define and explain highly technical concepts and express the importance of cybersecurity measures to his many competitions and the INI’s Cyber Risk Modeling course.  

For recent graduates, Schulz expressed the importance of maintaining a network and keeping in touch with colleagues and friends whenever possible. He also remarked on the importance of staying curious. “Our security techniques and technologies are moving so quickly,” said Schulz. “It’s always important to stay on top of what’s new and state-of-the-art in methods and systems. Always try to keep learning.”