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Kelly Cullinane (’12): Enhancing Security by Standardizing Tech

After majoring in Politics at the University of Dallas, Kelly Cullinane (’12) knew she wanted to go into this field professionally. She chose IWP for her graduate program to help her learn about the applications of political theories to current events. Her subsequent work has largely focused on infrastructure security, including electric security and cyber security. Today, Kelly is working at OASIS – the nonprofit standards organization that helps make AMBER Alerts possible – where she works with their members to create technology standards in the areas of cybersecurity, threat intelligence, and disinformation.

Kelly Cullinane HeadshotA year before graduating from the University of Dallas, Kelly heard then-IWP President John Lenczowski give the Commencement address at her school. Inspired by his remarks, she began to learn more about the application of the political theory she was learning in college to modern situations. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Politics in 2009, she immediately applied and was accepted to the IWP’s Master of Arts in Statecraft and National Security Affairs program.

“It was exciting and very fast, but it was one of the only times in my life I didn’t think about something too much,” Kelly said of her transition to graduate school. “I knew it was the right thing, and the details would work out.”

Bringing theory to the real world at IWP

At IWP, many of Kelly’s professors were current and former national security professionals. “I gained valuable insight from them on how we can apply the things we learn in the classroom to the real world, and where the differences are between theory and practice,” she said. Her classes centered on theory, practice, and how events play out in real-life scenarios. She remembers enjoying learning from the late Prof. Brian Kelley, a former intelligence officer with the U.S. Air Force and Central Intelligence Agency.

Kelly said that she has been applying lessons learned from her IWP classes to her professional work. “Prof. Tsagronis completely changed the way I write,” she said. “Coming from my undergraduate experience, I was used to writing in a prose-heavy, well-cited way that was technically and academically perfect. Prof. Tsagronis asked us to describe what we needed to convey in as few words as possible. He was able to help me become confident in this style of writing and become better at it. My bosses today don’t want ten-page memos. They want a paragraph to a page. It sounds easy, but it can be deceptively difficult on a big topic.”

Kelly also met her husband, Scott Cullinane (’12), at IWP. When asked what it is like being married to a fellow IWP alumnus, Kelly said, “It’s pretty great! We have the same kind of foundation in a lot of ways. When our views differ, we at least understand where the other is coming from. It’s also great because Scott can fill in the gaps. If I am trying to remember something we learned in class, he can help me figure out the name of the book in question, for instance. When we got married, we donated our duplicate books to the IWP library!”

Scott and Kelly volunteering with an IWP group at Wreaths Across America.
Scott and Kelly volunteering with an IWP group at Wreaths Across America.

Enhancing security across multiple domains

Kelly graduated from IWP in 2012, and her first job afterward was as a Government Affairs Associate with Edison Electric Institute, where she focused on infrastructure security. She continued to work on infrastructure security in subsequent jobs, including for a tech company that built electric and cyber security solutions and for a government contracting firm.

Today, as a Technical Community Steward with OASIS, she almost exclusively works on security-related portfolios, including cyber security, threat intelligence, and disinformation, through a technology policy lens. Kelly pulls on her intelligence courses from IWP to help her build a more comprehensive analysis of the issues she covers in her current role. Kelly has noted that she often thinks back to Dr. John Lenczowski’s emphasis on the importance of understanding the bigger picture instead of focusing exclusively on your piece of the puzzle.

OASIS is a non-profit standards organization that aims to advance fair, open, and transparent standards and open source software.  OASIS operates like a trade association with members and sponsors from some of the biggest tech companies to small consulting firms. The organization provides project management to ensure the creation and longevity of technology standards and the legal structure to protect the intellectual property involved. OASIS works with large international organizations like the United Nations to advance these technology standards for more widespread adoption. One of OASIS’s well-known projects is the Common Alerting Protocol which serves as the standard for exchanging all-hazard emergency alerts and public warnings such as AMBER Alerts, a technology that improved communication about child abduction emergencies across agencies and organizations.

Kelly and Scott at IWP
Scott and Kelly Cullinane at IWP

In her role as a Technical Community Steward, Kelly facilitates the creation of technology standards, and she attributes much of her success in this role to her security background. When companies come to her organization with an idea, she coordinates with other leaders on the issue at hand, defines deliverables, provides a legal structure, and oversees the development of a standard from an idea to full implementation.

One of the larger projects that Kelly is currently working on is STIX, Structured Threat Information Expression. This project works to standardize the way threat intelligence is shared between organizations. STIX will improve threat information sharing so that it becomes more accurate, fast, and actionable, which will ultimately make threat responses more effective. The goal is greater awareness and collaboration in defending against bad actors.

Kelly is also working on a few other cybersecurity standards, including a standard to combat disinformation from a technical perspective.

Kelly Cullinane at IWP Commencement in 2012
Kelly Cullinane at IWP Commencement in 2012

Reflections on work and the future

When asked what she has been most proud of thus far in her career, Kelly said that she is glad that she has always made an effort to treat people with integrity, honesty, and kindness.  She has striven to develop a high level of emotional intelligence so that she can understand not only what is being said, but also what is not being said.

Kelly encourages future IWP students to take advantage of those around them during their time at the Institute. “Everyone at IWP has such interesting backgrounds – get to know them. Build lasting connections with your professors and classmates.”

To young women going into her field, Kelly says, “You know more than you think you do.” She says young women shouldn’t be afraid to speak up or ask questions. They should seek out a mentor, whether it is a formal mentorship or just a person with whom to discuss life in general.

In the future, Kelly would like to become more familiar with the tech policy and standards world. She has significant experience in the research into creating cybersecurity tools, but as technology advances, the U.S. government’s policy and standards toward cybersecurity will change. She notes that this is a very big field, and she has only scratched the surface. Kelly hopes to become more involved and would like to continue learning and growing in her field.

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Kelly Cullinane receiving her diploma at Commencement 2012
Kelly Cullinane receiving her diploma at Commencement 2012