All students have stories about what led them to Harding, whether they followed family members or alumni recommendations or blazed a new trail on their own. For Cristina Serban (’92), it was Dr. Kenneth Davis — “Uncle Bud” — who set the Romanian native on a path to Searcy, Arkansas, and a career in the U.S.
Davis retired from Harding in 1988 and spent the following years conducting mission trips to Romania with his wife. Serban was working as a computer analyst programmer when she met the Davises through their mission efforts in Bucharest, Romania, in 1991. At the time, Serban was looking for a way to discover new trends in her field.
“I wanted to know what was new in computer science and maybe take several courses,” Serban said. “When I asked Kenneth and Betty if Harding had a computer science program and they said yes, little did I know I was embarking into a five-year graduate study adventure starting at Harding and then going on to Missouri University of Science and Technology for my Ph.D.”
In fall 1991, the Davises helped Serban and two other Romanian women attend Harding, connecting them to housing in Searcy. Serban said she began with the idea of taking a couple classes but ended up finishing a master’s degree in one year.
“I hadn’t planned out the whole school thing. But once I started learning at Harding, it was always on my mind: ‘What is beyond this?’ That is why I decided I wanted to go on for my Ph.D.”
It was at Missouri S&T that Serban discovered a passion for computer security, which became the subject of her Ph.D. research and the focus of her 20 years’ work with AT&T. In her current role at the AT&T Security Research Center, Serban looks for emerging threats and possible defenses in areas such as the cloud, mobility and the internet of things (IoT). She said it’s a field where she is constantly learning.
“Your education doesn’t stop when you are done with school. You need to keep up and you need to keep learning. You have new problems and new questions that come up every day. If you only rely on what you learned in school 20 years ago, then you are not going
to be a success. School gave me the right foundation to understand how to reason and what to ask.”
Serban’s key to success, the willingness to learn, is what has drawn her to her field from the beginning.
“The most attractive part to me is not just security — it’s everything about computers and technology. The thing about security is that you have to keep up with all the new things because that is where all the new threats and risks are. That is what is appealing to me. It keeps me curious.”