Karen Jackson, President of Apogee Strategic Partners, was recognized by Cloud Girls, in collaboration with the Alliance of Channel Women, as a Rising Star in the eighth annual Cloud Girls Rising “Women to Watch” awards announced in May of 2023.

The Cloud Girl Rising awards were created to honor women in the telecom and IT channel who have shown leadership and innovation in the emerging cloud space as well as to inspire more women to step forward and follow their example.

Karen was honored as a Trailblazer, a seasoned female technology veteran who is paving the way for her organization, customers and industry in advancing cloud and next-generation technology solutions. She is recognized as a role model and mentor to colleagues and others at work and the partner community. 

Cloud Girls is pleased to share more about Karen in this edited excerpt from her award application.

What examples demonstrate your success at implementing or promoting cloud and next-gen technology, management principles or process?

There are several initiatives started during my tenure as Secretary of Technology that continue to thrive and expand. I continue to support these entities and programs through introductions to other entities (public and private) that can leverage the resources to the betterment of Virginia students, citizens, institutions, and the Commonwealth as a whole. For purposes of this application I will focus on the Virginia Cyber Range and Competition, and the establishment of the Mid-Atlantic Partnership, an Federal Aviation Administration Test Site for Unmanned (uncrewed) Aerial Systems.

Virginia Cyber Initiative and the Virginia Cyber Range – One of the hallmark initiatives of my tenure as Secretary was Cyber Security. We worked across five areas of concentration building a world- class cyber security ecosystem in Virginia (including initiatives and policies) in public safety/cyber-crime, economic development, infrastructure, public awareness, and education/workforce. The Virginia Cyber Range (https://www.virginiacyberrange.org/) hosted by Virginia Tech was established to provide a state-funded, cloud-based platform to support hands-on cyber education an immersive cyber environment. “The Range” remains a key asset for cyber students and faculty in Virginia and is the ONLY state funded cyber range in the nation. The platform supports thousands of students and faculty across more than 400 high schools and universities and has deployed over 155,000 virtual machines. Their model and programs have been so successful that in 2019, the Virginia Tech team launched the U.S Cyber Range to support cyber education nationwide (https://vtx.vt.edu/articles/2019/07/it-vcr-uscyberrange.html). The Range also supports the annual Commonwealth Cyber Fusion (https://conferences.vmi.edu/cyberfusion), that combines a collegiate cyber competition with learning and career opportunities that emphasize Cyber Fusion. The Virginia Cyber Range develops and hosts the Virginia Cyber Cup Capture the Flag Competition.

Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP) (at Virginia Tech https://maap.ictas.vt.edu/). In 2014, I served as the Virginia Governor’s office team lead to assemble a team to compete to become one of seven Federal Aviation Administration inaugural test sites for unmanned (uncrewed) aerial systems (UAS). The team consisted of three states and more than 35 stakeholders. The bid was successful, and the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP) was established at Virginia Tech. The test site continues to thrive and take on the most pressing technical and operational challenges in UAS integration and their work has consistently led to landmark permissions and operations (including package delivery) that have advanced the industry.

How have you led by example? What have you done to inspire team members around cloud and next-gen technologies?

Throughout my career I have been an unabashed advocate for rural communities (urban-parity for broadband services, access to cyber training (cyber range), and innovation) and young women in STEM/STEAM/STEM-H, etc. I have worked to create programs that could be offered throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, eliminating (real and perceived) geographic and socio-economic barriers (such as the Capital One partnership). In 2020, I authored a piece for the Diplomatic Courier on the opportunities for rural revival in the wake of the pandemic https://www.diplomaticourier.com/posts/toward-a-rural-renaissance-in-the-post-pandemic-era and I continue to “live my convictions” by participating in mentoring opportunities, working with rural organizations in variety of capacities (interim executive director at a higher-ed center, innovation consultant at a rural junior college, and working regionally and at the state level to advance the workforce necessary to deploy the billions of dollars being rolled out for broadband deployment.

How have you mentored other women in the channel – above, below and at your level?

As outlined in this application, I have dedicated my career to the advancement of young women and inclusion of those in rural areas. I have seized opportunities, created programs (such as the Capital One events listed above) and talked about STEM opportunities for women in next-gen technologies anywhere they would listen! At the higher-education center, I worked with the CIO to launch a “Girls Who Game” summer camp that is now offered annually and has actually spawned a “club” to meet throughout the year.

My opportunity to serve as the Commonwealth of Virginia’s only female secretary of technology and the Commonwealth’s first advocate for broadband parity in rural areas of Virginia, was my moment to stand on the shoulders of so many other women who “fought the good fight” to advance women in STEM careers – and I am beyond grateful and humbled to advance their legacy.

Following my tenure in public service, I have chosen to continue to serve as a senior advisor on, and advocate for the advancement and adoption of next gen technologies including broadband, unmanned (uncrewed) systems, cyber security, innovation, digital equity and inclusion (DEI), and logistics/supply chains to male and female colleagues alike.

Congrats, Karen!!