CSUDH graduate student Esmond Epuna isn’t someone who lets obstacles or challenges stand in his way – whether it’s a school abruptly closing its doors or the daunting task of a cross-country commute. Currently pursuing a master’s in cybersecurity, Epuna hasn’t let anything distract him from his dreams.
Epuna graduated from high school in 2013, then started taking courses at El Camino College. He soon transferred to the for-profit technical college ITT Technical Institute. Within a few years, his studies were almost complete – but then ITT went out of business with no warning in 2016.
“Right before I finished, I lost all my credits,” recalls Epuna. “ITT had to close down. I ended up getting very scattered and demoralized about going back to school.”
Epuna kept himself afloat by taking on a variety of jobs, from working at fast food restaurants to driving for Uber. Eventually, he decided to return to school in 2018, and completed his associate’s degree at Santa Monica College.
He then transferred to CSUDH to complete his undergraduate studies. “As soon as I got into Dominguez Hills, I loaded up on units,” he says. “I took 16 or 18 units every semester and was able to finish up in one year. I just got the fire that I needed.” Epuna earned his bachelor’s degree in computer technology from CSUDH in May 2023.
Around the time he was preparing to start at CSUDH, Epuna was offered a job with a Japanese tech firm. He worked with a team doing digital firmware updates for the Hilton Corporation. “I was very happy to be getting hands-on experience,” says Epuna.
Once the local job for Hilton was completed, the company offered Epuna another contract—this time in Washington, DC. “I thought, ‘Well, that’s not going to work with my school schedule’,” recalls Epuna. He had just been accepted into the CSUDH Cybersecurity Master’s Program and didn’t see how he could possibly do both.
“I talked to my boss, who said, ‘Don’t worry about it. We’ll fly you back and forth, and we’ll pay for the flights and everything. You’ve just got to just show up and work.’ I’m definitely willing to work, so I agreed to give it a shot. I’ve been flying back and forth ever since.”
Epuna’s typical weekly schedule is hectic. “I fly out Monday morning, and it’s a six-hour flight, so I get to DC usually just after noon. Once I get there, I start work. I work all week, then I fly back to California on Friday evenings. I go to class on Saturday and Sunday. Then rinse and repeat!” he laughs.
Epuna credits his professors at CSUDH for the flexibility and willingness to help to make his long-distance schedule possible. “CSUDH is an awesome program and an awesome school, so they have a lot of resources to help,” he says. “My teachers definitely understand what I’m doing, and I communicate back and forth with them to make sure I’m on the right track.”
Why go to so much trouble? Epuna has a simple answer: “Because the school is just quality. I’m getting a good education at CSUDH. There’s no reason to change everything up midstream, especially because the professors have been so good about accommodating my schedule.”
Epuna plans to continue his cross-country commuting through the rest of the academic year. He is on track to graduate with his master’s in cybersecurity in May, 2024. He then plans to continue his career in the cybersecurity field.
“I would like to be in a job where I can do a little bit more hands-on cybersecurity. However, if my current company has any roles that open up, they understand that I’m available—wherever the job is. I have a passion for the work.”