Graduate Studies

Graduate Student Profiles

Student Profiles

The Office of Graduate Studies is proud to be highlighting some of our amazing Graduate Students this year. The work our students take on each day is significant, and we are excited to learn more about them both personally, and academically. Read on for more information about what Katie Tomer, and Zachary Leavitt have to say about graduate study at USM and check out their advice for being successful graduate students.

Graduate program: 

Masters of Policy, Planning, and Management program (MPPM) at USM

Anticipated graduation date: 

December, 2021 


Katie comes to USM with diverse work experiences ranging from the arts to restorative justice. Previously Katie worked with Wabanaki REACH, a non-profit that supports the self-determination of the Wabanaki people in Maine, co-facilitating Native healing circles in prisons. She also has a background as a professional ballet dancer, performing in locations around the world like Russia, New York City, and southern California. After her performing arts career, she ventured to Thailand to teach English. More recently, while attending grad school, Katie brought her talents to USM to work in Academic Advising.

Future plans:

Katie recently accepted a position with the International Association for Human Values that does work across the globe and has status with the United Nations. Projects and programs of the organization range from global peace building initiatives, trauma and disaster relief, violence prevention, women’s empowerment, and more. Katie stated, “The MPPM program has helped me look at complex issues from both a macro and micro perspective.”

On finding balance:

To balance school, work and personal life, Katie makes meditation practice a priority every day. Katie explained, “It has been a secret super power that I credit with helping me make it as far as I have both academically and professionally.” 


The biggest challenge so far for Katie while completing her degree has been deciding to stick with it. She mentioned that it has been challenging having some people in her life that don’t understand the rigors of pursuing a master’s degree or its value. This has led her to seek out other sources of inspiration and role models to help her see her commitment of earning the degree through to completion.

Favorite USM Class:

Organizational Leadership and Grant Writing (both from the MPPM program) 

Free Time:

In her free time, Katie loves to be in nature, especially the mountains or the beach. She also enjoys taking a brain break by meditating or singing loudly in the car or at home. She admits that she doesn’t know all the words to most songs, but enjoys making up her own lyrics!

Favorite Meal:

Katie has a love for Thai food! Having lived in Thailand, spicy food, and especially Thai curry dishes are hands down her favorite. 

Advice for new graduate students:

Katie wants other aspiring or current grad students to know that “You absolutely can earn a master’s degree and will if you follow through with the commitment to see it all the way through! Don’t let imposter syndrome stand in the way.” Katie highly recommends connecting with fellow classmates. “Classmates are future colleagues. I feel that our society and world becomes a better place when we can celebrate each other’s differences and work together. This can start in our classes!”

Graduate program: 

M.S. in Cybersecurity

Anticipated graduation date: 

December, 2022


Before joining USM, Zach spent nearly  a decade working in the Cyber Security and IT space with roles including repair technician, independent consultant, systems management support specialist and software developer. 

Future plans:

Over the course of his graduate studies, Zach has developed interests in digital forensics, cybersecurity education/awareness and penetration testing. Zach explained, “Obtaining my MS in Cybersecurity is not only helping me narrow down which field I want to enter, but also preparing me with the knowledge and skills required for that career.”

On the Cybersecurity Ambassador Program:

Zach is an active participant in the Cybersecurity Ambassador Program (CAP) at USM and has worked diligently to grow the program. CAP is a student organization that promotes cybersecurity research and community awareness. “Working as a Cybersecurity Ambassador has been my favorite experience at USM so far as it has allowed me to meet interesting people in my field that I would not have met attending classes remotely. The CAP has also been an excellent opportunity for me to grow both personally and professionally,” Zach noted. Last year, they presented on cybersecurity to a handful of organizations in southern Maine and they hope to continue that outreach this year. In 2021, the CAP was even awarded best submission in the 2021 Innovations in Cybersecurity Education by the National CyberWatch Center.

On Working During Grad School:

Zach mentioned that while there are inherent challenges to balancing work, school, being a dad and having a personal life, he finds the best way to manage everything is by “creating a schedule and sticking to it.” Zach expanded, “Normally I’m able to stay on top of my responsibilities but there are times that I fall behind and have to play catch up. This is when being organized and scheduling time to tackle each task really comes in handy.” Zach also pointed out that this faculty advisor has been a source of support in helping him strike a balance between his career, home-life and studies. 

On Burnout:

Zach’s biggest challenge so far has been avoiding burnout. “Whether because of being full-time remote, being a full-time student, or just from living through the pandemic, I’ve felt very worn out...I think It’s really important for students to make sure they have a healthy life balance and to be able to recognize when they need to take a break,” Zach explained. 


In his free time, Zach enjoys photography, drawing, painting and playing guitar and video games. He’s also on the USM collegiate cyber defense team, the Husky Hackers. He spends whatever time he can preparing for cyber Capture the Flag competitions. 

Favorite Meal:

Zach would never turn down homemade lasagna!

Advice for Graduate Students:

“Research every opportunity the University has to offer. There seem to be so many resources and opportunities available today for graduate students and from my somewhat limited experience, they can be very rewarding,” Zach noted. He went on to note, “Like anything else in life, what you get out of school is often proportionate to the amount of effort you invest into it. Throughout every walk of life I’ve found that the more you invest yourself into something, the more rewarding that experience is.”