Meet a Retriever—Nathan Wooddell ’23, graduate student specializing in Russian and cybersecurity 

Published: Feb 28, 2024

Man and woman sitting at a desk in a classroom in front of a whiteboard with Russian words, focused on the papers in front of them.
Nathan Wooddell '23 and Russian Professor Vira Zhdanovych work together on cybersecurity vocabulary in Russian. (Marlayna Demond '11/UMBC)
Meet Nathan Wooddell ’23, computer science. Nathan is a member of UMBC’s CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service cohort, and is getting his master’s in cybersecurity as a graduate researcher at the National Nuclear Security Agency. Nathan attributes much of his success to the connections he’s made with the staff and faculty at UMBC who have helped him to discover his true passions. During his time as an undergraduate at UMBC, Nathan also completed a Russian language certificate, and has found a way to combine his interests of both cybersecurity and the Russian language in the professional world. Take it away, Nathan.  

Q: What’s one thing you’d want someone to know about the support you find at UMBC?

A: In many classes, casual visits to professors during office hours, polite interactions during class, and expressing interest in the subject matter can go a long way. Such interactions help with all aspects of student life. Too many students fail to take proper advantage of the fantastic support that the university faculty can offer. The best way to do this in my experience is simply to speak with your professors after class or outside of class.

Such interactions help with all aspects of student life. The faculty can offer support in the form of academic resources, scholarship recommendations, professional guidance, and even letters of recommendation for work or graduate programs.

Q: Tell us about someone in the community who has inspired you or supported you, and how they did it.

A: I want to give special thanks to Russian instructor Vira Zhdanovych. Since I first transferred to UMBC, I have taken Russian language courses with Professor Zhdanovych. It was through her guidance that I got my first research experience when she advised me on my 2022 Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Day presentation Analyzing the Russian Federation’s Impact on Global Cyber Security. This was also the first time that I was able to merge my interest in cybersecurity and Russian language. 

Students learning Russian pose for a photo with their professor, holding up different Russian letters to spell out the phrase "Happy New Year!" in the language.
At the MLLI winter and New Year celebration, hosted by the Russian Area in December 2023, Zhdanovych stands in the center holding an “M” and Wooddell is to her right holding the Russian letter “ы.” The full sign reads “Happy New Year!” (Photo courtesy of Zhdanovych)

I have worked extensively with Professor Zhdanovych to study and research the impact of the Russian-speaking world on the cybersecurity and intelligence communities—I owe so much of my professional and academic success to her.

Q: Tell us what you love about your academic program or an organization you’re involved in.

A: I am a participant and former officer in UMBC’s Russian Club. The meetings of this club are especially good for learning about contemporary Russian culture, as well as the geopolitical history, which still shapes the diplomacy of the Russo-American relationship.

“Had I known then what I know now about the university’s programs, rigor, faculty, and opportunities, UMBC would have been a shoo-in. Ultimately, I am so grateful that I applied to, and attended UMBC.”

Nathan Wooddell ’23, current master’s student

Q: What is your WHY? What brought you to UMBC?

A: I came to UMBC in my sophomore year as a transfer student. Admittedly when I was accepted I toyed around with the idea of going to a variety of different schools, but eventually decided on UMBC for the price, and the relative vicinity to my home in northern Maryland.

Had I known then what I know now about the university’s programs, rigor, faculty, and opportunities, UMBC would have been a shoo-in. Ultimately, I am so grateful that I applied to, and attended UMBC.

Q: Tell us about the people who are helping you grow at UMBC, and why their HOW made such a difference to you.

A: In addition to Professor Zhdanovych’s support with my Russian language and research, Professor RJ Joyce in computer science encouraged me to become invested in cybersecurity. It’s because of him that I’ve become involved in many of the clubs and organizations I am currently enrolled in. Such interest in security was able to earn me recipient status in UMBC’s Scholarship for Service cohort.  

Q: What clubs, teams, or organizations are you a part of? What do you love about them?

A: First and foremost, I am a member of UMBC’s National Science Foundation-funded CyberCorps: Scholarship of Service (SFS). This program has allowed me to pursue my interest in security outside of the traditional academic venues. Thanks to SFS, I was able to attend and present at DEFCON 31 in Las Vegas, one of the largest cybersecurity conventions in the world [Photo: Wooddell, left, at DEFCON 31 with a fellow student].

I am also a member of the UMBC Cyberdawgs. I never miss an opportunity to compete in the annual competitions they hold on campus. Beyond this, I attend the bi-weekly Cyber Defense Lab meetings, which allow me to keep up to date with all sorts of security research projects being conducted on campus.

Q: Are you a student leader? Tell us about it! 

A: Through SFS, related organizations, and clubs on campus, I have been lucky enough to meet and work with some of the most amazing and intelligent people I have ever met. From these associated labs, clubs, and programs I have met and been influenced by more people than I could ever hope to list here.

Two men (one is a Russian speaker) take a smiling selfie in front of a lot of lit up billboards in Las Vegas at a cybersecurity conference

I am incredibly honored to have been able to lead these organizations, as they have provided me with opportunities to give back to my university and community.

* * * * *

UMBC’s greatest strength is its people. When people meet Retrievers and hear about the passion they bring, the relationships they create, the ways they support each other, and the commitment they have to inclusive excellence, they truly get a sense of our community. That’s what “Meet a Retriever” is all about.

Learn more about how UMBC can help you achieve your goals.

Tags: , , , , ,

Scroll to Top