Alumni Spotlight: Tarah Wheeler
Tarah Wheeler (‘04) calls herself a hacker. She’s taken her formidable computer skills and drive to understand how the world works and emerged as a global leader in protecting private citizens and corporations from cyberattacks.
Acknowledging Wheeler’s expertise, the US-UK Fulbright Commission granted her a Fulbright Cyber Security Scholar Award for the 2020/2021 year. Under the award given to distinguished scholars in the field, Wheeler will lead a research project at Oxford University in conjunction with the UK National Health Service.
“My work will focus on defining cyberwar crimes and mitigating the harms ordinary people experience from cyberwarfare,” Wheeler explains. “Right now, we don’t have a real definition for cyberwar or what a cyberwar crime is because there has never been a quantitative study of how many citizens have been harmed. I’ll conduct interviews, gather information, and help shine light on these issues.”
Wheeler’s current contributions cover a lot of ground. She is a Cyber Project Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University‘s Kennedy School of Government and an International Security Fellow at New America. Wheeler is also on the Advisory Board of The Electronic Frontier Foundation and she consults as a cybersecurity executive for tech companies.
While her accomplishments are vast, Wheeler’s cover story for Foreign Policy magazine, “In Cyberwar, There Are No Rules,” is what gives her the most pride.
In technology, Wheeler says the things we don’t see are what come back and bite us, and her work to expose hidden realities extends to the field itself. Women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community are extremely underrepresented in computer science, and Wheeler actively mentors these people every day.
Despite receiving encouragement in school, Wheeler asserts that women are not welcomed into technology in the same way as men. “Women are excluded at every point in the pipeline,” she says. “There’s an inability in technology to see women as strong leaders and in leadership roles.”
Wheeler’s 2016 book Women in Tech: Take Your Career to the Next Level with Practical Advice and Inspiring Stories contains interviews with women about their experiences as well as Wheeler’s tips for success.
An insatiable learner, Wheeler wields her ever-expanding knowledge to provide a wide range of strategic advice. She’s an expert commentator for media and serves as an international keynote speaker with The Lavin Agency.
“My education was in behavioral economics and I got my MS in political science at PSU. Eventually, applied math and inspiration from amazing advisors at the Hatfield School of Government got me interested in game theory and game design. I wanted to investigate why people behave the way they do.”
Her unique background and varied interests now help Wheeler bridge worlds that wouldn’t otherwise connect. “Everything I do takes a little piece of yesterday and turns it into what we’re experiencing today and the consequences it will bring tomorrow.”