The Charger Blog

First-Generation Student: ‘I View Education as a Gift that Cannot be Taken for Granted’

Steven Atilho ’22 is grateful for the many opportunities he has had as a computer science major, particularly the chance to attend a recent talk that enabled him to connect with leaders in the fields of cybersecurity and finance – including a successful first-generation alum.

March 19, 2021

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Steven Atilho ’22 at his home work station.
Steven Atilho ’22 at his home work station.

When Steven Atilho ’22 was growing up, he was grateful for the many sacrifices that his parents, who immigrated to the United States from rural Portugal, made for him. They did not have the opportunity to pursue higher education themselves, and they worked hard, often in physically demanding jobs, to ensure their children had the opportunities they never had.

A computer science major, Atilho is most thankful for everything his parents have sacrificed, as well as the myriad opportunities he has had at the University of New Haven.

“I view education as a gift that cannot be taken for granted,” explains Atilho, who grew up in Bridgeport, Conn. “I push myself to my absolute limits and take every opportunity I can, not only to make my parents proud, but to reach the point in my career where I can give back by ensuring that others don't have to struggle anymore.”

Frank Martire
Frank Martire ’77 MBA shared his story during the virtual talk.
‘A gateway to achieving a lasting and secure career’

Atilho became interested in computer science as a member of his high school’s FIRST Robotics Competition team, which enabled him to explore mechanical and electrical engineering as well as computer science. As he learned about programming and saw that he could use coding to instruct the robot, he became fascinated by the potential of computers.

As a first-year student at the University, it was Atilho’s eagerness to continue to explore new opportunities that led to his discovering the University’s hacking team. Although he had limited knowledge of hacking or networking when he started attending the club’s weekly meetings, he says he was welcomed with open arms. He’s now been a member of the team for three years, and he has taken part in a variety of competitions that, he says, enabled him to gain hands-on experience and further his knowledge of computer science.

A member of the University’s Cyber Operative Research Scholars Program (CORES) program, which is funded by the Office of Naval Research, Atilho is writing a research paper on investigating dark web cyber criminals who sell personally identifiable information, such as social security numbers and bank account information.

He hopes his research will help law enforcement agencies reduce the sale of such information on the dark web. He is grateful that the opportunity has enabled him to gain experience as a professional researcher, develop skills in areas such as ethics and leadership, and opened doors for him to publish his work.

“Being a first-generation student means I am always stepping out of my comfort zone and taking risks,” he said. “I am doing things I've never seen anyone in my family do before. Applying for financial aid, college, and scholarships was a process I had to learn myself. This is a chance for me to provide upward mobility for my whole family. I see college as a gateway to achieving a lasting and secure career.”

‘Instilled hope and motivation in me’
Steven Atilho ’22.
Steven Atilho ’22.

A memorable opportunity Atilho recently had at the University was the chance to attend a talk by Frank Martire ’77 MBA, executive chair of NCR Corporation, a leader in banking and commerce solutions; and Greg Montana, chief risk officer for FIC, a Fortune 500 company and a leading provider of technology solutions for merchants, banks, and capital market firms around the world.

The talk, titled “Generating Business Success Through Technology and Cybersecurity Leadership,” was part of the University’s Success and Leadership Series. Held via Zoom, it enabled students such as Atilho to interact with Martire and Montana.

Martire, who was also a first-generation college student, grew up in Bridgeport as well, and he and Atilho briefly discussed the city when Atilho asked him a question. The grandson of Italian immigrants, Martire told students about his own pursuit of education.

“Discovering this about him and seeing the heights he has reached in his career instilled hope and motivation in me,” said Atilho. “It showed me that through perseverance and hard work, you can achieve aspirations that past generations did not have the opportunity to achieve.”

Greg Montana
Greg Montana offered advice to students.
‘I got so much out of it’

While taking classes at the University of New Haven at night, Martire worked at Connecticut National bank during the day, sometimes returning to work after class. He said that although technical skills are important, interactions with people are paramount.

“It was a bit challenging, but I got so much out of it,” he said. “It was the best time, and I learned a lot. I think what will make the biggest difference in your career, whatever you may do, will be how you relate to, work with, and motivate others.”

Presented by the Pompea College of Business, Tagliatela College of Engineering, and the Connecticut Institute of Technology, the event celebrated the launch of the online M.S. in Cybersecurity Leadership and Management. It enabled students to ask Martire and Montana questions and to listen to a lively discussion that also examined attracting investors, building a team, cryptocurrency, and the impact of the coronavirus global pandemic on finance and cybersecurity. Martire and Montana also offered advice to students.

“Surround yourself with the most competent people you can possibly find,” said Montana. “Have faith in them, and make sure you have strong people around you.”

Steven Atilho ’22 on his computer
Steven Atilho ’22 competes with the University’s hacking team remotely.
‘Cybersecurity is critical’

Atilho says the discussion was a wonderful opportunity that enabled him to prepare for another opportunity he is looking forward to: his internship this summer at BNY Mellon, a leading corporate investment banking company. He will serve as an infrastructure engineer as part of the 2021 Student Technology, Agile & Readiness Training (S.T.A.R.T) program, and he looks forward to gaining hands-on experience in platform security, cloud architecture, and automation.”

“As an incoming infrastructure engineer intern at a bank, I found this talk to be a great experience that enabled me to learn how both business and tech executives work together to create policies and plans that ensure the security of merchants, banks, and markets across the globe,” he said. “Mr. Martire and Mr. Montana discussed how cybersecurity has become essential in all job fields, not just information technology. With new technology applications being created every day, cybersecurity is critical to ensuring that the data in and operations of these systems are protected from malicious individuals.”