The Power of Data

Updated fall of 2011: Rachel Kennett graduated in December 2010 with a degree in computer and information technology. Before taking a full-time job, she was able to take her computer and organizational skills to Haiti, through Nehemiah Vision Ministries, to help them learn skills that could help them out of poverty and through the rebuilding of the country after the January 2010 earthquake. "My time at Purdue, especially my educational background, provided the foundation for what my job duties entailed while in Haiti," Kennett said. "I was put in charge of the logistical coordination of tens of thousands of dollars of donations. Processes and documentation were created to help others determine what to do when donations came in and were distributed. I also designed, created, and implemented an inventory tracking system using Microsoft Excel and Visual Basic Applications to aid in donation management. "In addition to IT-related tasks, I also would help unload containers, create bags to distribute to IDP (internally displaced persons) camps, assist teams in setting up tents, and help prepare dinner almost every night. It was an awesome experience to be able to go to Haiti and to be able to combine my passion for helping others with my interest and education in data management." Kennett is now a project management analyst with Freddie Mac in northern Virginia. She assists in the oversight of two projects and provides more technical skills to two other projects.

Original story, published June 2011: If you never recognize the work that Rachel Kennett does, that’s just fine with her. With some things she prefers to stay behind the scenes, but the effectiveness of her work still brings her pride. “I like the fact that I’m doing something that has a grand purpose,” says Kennett, a recent graduate of the computer and information technology program, about her research into malware. “It’s such a big issue, whether for a business, government or on the personal level. It’s cool to see something you’ve started go from beginning to end and see it being used.” Malware is malicious software that is designed to secretly access a computer system without the owner’s consent. For the past three years, Kennett worked extensively in the College of Technology’s Malware Lab, using her skills in database development for the analysis, documentation and reverse engineering of suspected malware programs. Malware is distinct from traditional viruses in that it is written to hide in the background to avoid detection. Its ultimate aim is to track your computer activity, stealing your credentials and account passwords. The college’s research in this area is a specific focus of its broader work in cyberforensics and has allowed Kennett to work hands-on with law enforcement investigative teams, including the FBI. As she researches career options, an opportunity with the FBI is definitely an exciting proposition. “I’m drawn to government agencies,” she said. “They have so many opportunities. They are helping get criminals off the street.” Jumping right into research without any technical background didn’t hurt her development. “Rachel has the great intangible of dependability and the ability to work independently,” says Malware Lab Director James Goldman. “Her persistence is testimony to her desire to make a difference in this field.” Though her research in the Malware Lab is often behind the scenes, Kennett’s work in database development took center stage last spring. She joined with a team of fellow classmates to take first place out of 55 teams in the Database Design competition at the 15th annual Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP) Collegiate Conference. The team had four hours to design a database, create a diagram, insert and manipulate data, create users, give permissions and develop queries. “Communication was extremely important,” Kennett said. “Most projects in CIT are group focused. It’s good to gain different views and opinions, things you may not have thought of. It’s great to be able to divide and conquer work.” Kennett points to the hands-on, practical application of her CIT classes as playing a major role in her adjustment to the learning curve. The strong faculty with industry experience was also helpful. “They’ve seen it and know what they are talking about,” says Kennett. “We work on case studies and problem statements that you might see in a real situation. It’s prepared me well. Concepts sometimes don’t make sense until you see them in the real world.”