Gisele Stolz wins CCI Impact Award

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The Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) has awarded George Mason University’s Gisele Stolz its prestigious Impact Award. Stolz is the senior director of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Programs at Mason, the lead university for the CCI Northern Virginia Node. 

portrait of Gisele Stolz
Gisele Stolz, senior director of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Programs. Photo by Ron Aira/Creative Services

“Gisele’s leadership in developing and expanding the cybersecurity startup internship program along with her work on the Commonwealth Cyber Incubator + Accelerator Program (CCI+A) have directly impacted the Virginia innovation ecosystem,” CCI Executive Director Luiz DaSilva said. “We are delighted to present her with this award.”  

The annual flagship award is given to an individual, team, group, or organization who through their CCI activities has conducted breakthrough cybersecurity research or innovation or developed a creative means to improve cybersecurity workforce opportunities for our industry partners and students.

“From envisioning a cybersecurity startup internship program, to its development, success and, ultimately, scaling, to building out the structure of the Commonwealth Cyber Incubator + Accelerator Program (CCI+A) cohort programming, few people within the CCI network have had such a widespread impact as Gisele,” said Liza Wilson Durant, director of the CCI Northern Virginia Node and associate dean for strategic initiatives and community engagement at Mason.

“Under her oversight, the cybersecurity startup internship program has attracted more than 700 applicants, placing 83 undergraduate students with more than 50 companies,” Durant noted in the award nomination. “The competitiveness of this program has allowed her to ensure that the highest-quality candidates are placed, increasing the buy-in of, and positive impact to, our industry partners. Of the students placed, 73% were offered follow-up positions with their host company—a combination of additional, nonsupported internships and full-time employment offers.”

Impact Award nomination reviewers highlighted the “impressive results” of the programs Stolz created and fostered. 

Working with students and startups inspires Stolz. “I’m grateful I’m helping to give these students the ability to get a job and the skills they need to start a career. It’s an amazing feeling to be making an impact on their lives and careers.”

Working at a startup requires a risk-taking mentality, Stolz said. For students who find uncertainty invigorating, a startup is a great fit.

“Students are saying their work at a startup is so much more impactful. They’re a key member of the team, not just a cog.” 

It’s not only students who benefit from her work. Startups find interns, many of whom become employees, that they need to grow.

Stolz is constantly improving the programs, adding what she learns during regular check-ins with students and companies. She also puts the lean startup methodology lessons to work. “I’m applying what I’m teaching in my business classes. It’s a continual improvement loop.” 

CCI is a statewide network of 41 Virginia public universities and colleges and includes more than 300 researchers and partners focused on cybersecurity, autonomous systems, and intelligence, to further research, innovation, and workforce development within the state.