Throughout her four-year college career, Megan Carter Shepherd ’94 broke records with the Mary Washington swim team, winning championships and earning a top spot in the Capital Athletic Conference.
But Goolrick Pool wasn’t the only place she made a splash. Double majoring in math and computer science, Shepherd dove into numbers, equations and formulas – expertise she relies on in her new role as chief operating officer of SimVentions. The Stafford-based engineering services company counts the Navy, Marine Corps and NSWC Dahlgren as customers. Protecting clients’ data, assets and information is more important than ever, she said, since many organizations have shifted to telework due to COVID-19.
“Cybersecurity wasn’t even something that was discussed when I first graduated,” Shepherd said of her field, which employs only about 20 percent women, according to Cybersecurity Ventures. “Now it’s at the forefront of everything.”
She encourages those beginning their careers to secure a cybersecurity certification, like the one UMW introduced last fall. She also recommends finding a mentor and establishing relationships with professors like the ones she found at Mary Washington.
A competitive distance swimmer who set the CAC record for the 500 freestyle during her freshman and sophomore years, Shepherd said that her affinity for math – and her choice to major in it – mirrors her love of swimming.
“As a swimmer, you develop a winning strategy by pacing yourself and trying to tire out your opponent,” Shepherd said. “Math, with its logic, proofs and theorems, is all about figuring out a ‘winning’ solution.”
She was unsure what career she’d pursue, until professors Ernest Ackerman and Martha Zaidman convinced her to plunge into computer science. “It took an extra semester to finish that major, but it was worth it!” said Shepherd, who later completed an internship testing software in Culpeper.
After graduation, Shepherd moved home to New Jersey, putting her degree to work developing databases and software for clients like AT&T. She returned to Fredericksburg for a job at Booz Allen Hamilton in Dahlgren, where she often collaborated with SimVentions on projects. Drawn to its emphasis on values, and its dedication to its employees and customers, she accepted a position at the company in 2012.
“Many organizations talk about their culture, but SimVentions lives it,” said Shepherd, who, until recently, served as vice president for its cybersecurity group.
As COO, she oversees the company’s technical groups, human resources, security, operations support and the chief engineer. With much of SimVentions’ 300-plus member staff working remotely due to the pandemic, they’re using tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and WebEx to provide clients with quality support and solutions to protect against threats and vulnerabilities.
“Safety is of the utmost concern. With the work that we do in support of the Department of Defense, many employees still continue to work from their customer locations,” Shepherd said, adding that members of her staff have volunteered to make masks for those on the base.
Often juggling a busy schedule, Shepherd relies on time management skills she honed in college. But during the quarantine, she’s finding opportunities to work out and take walks with her husband, son and two dogs.
Once the pandemic is over, Shepherd is looking forward to seeing her son, Carter, who graduated from James Monroe High School this spring, head off to play college lacrosse in Pennsylvania. But she’ll miss watching his swim practices at Goolrick Pool. Her former teammate, Konrad Heller ’94, was his coach for three years, and some days, Shepherd said, it felt like she had never left her alma mater.
“Standing on the pool deck, watching our kids swim together,” she said, “surrounded by championship flags and pictures of our time at Mary Washington, was a surreal experience.”