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Building a Tech Career with the Department of Homeland Security: Alumnus Curtis Ross’ Story

By Steve Smith

The information presented here is true and accurate as of the date of publication. DeVry’s programmatic offerings and their accreditations are subject to change. Please refer to the current academic catalog for details.


June 8, 2023

9 min read


Looking back 20+ years, Curtis Ross recalls the Saturdays he spent at a DeVry University campus on Chicago’s south side as some of the most motivating and invigorating experiences of his young life.


The day typically started with a test on the previous week’s material, then the class was given a new problem. Over the next several hours, students in the Computer Information Systems degree program would be split into working groups and challenged to find a solution to a problem taken right from the Chicago Board of Trade. According to Curtis, these were real-world exercises based on problems that were far more sophisticated than any he’s encountered in his professional life, and they were required to complete the solution flawlessly. That, he adds, is the part of his DeVry education that made the biggest and most enduring impression.


“It was amazing to see,” Curtis says as he joyfully describes the experience. “Everything else in the world would fall away. All of us as students ate it up, listened to the instructions, formed our teams and ran to a quiet work area. We learned to organize ourselves, work together, get to know each other over the several weeks of the course. Even during lunch, just grab and go, and keep on working. That’s reality.”


Sitting in another classroom on that same DeVry campus during the attacks of September 11, 2001, he had no idea that one day the soon-to-be-formed Department of Homeland Security would be on his horizon, or that he would contribute to our nation’s security in such an important way. 

Why DeVry?

Prior to attending DeVry, Curtis wasn’t particularly interested in a technical career. He planned to follow in his mother’s footsteps as a federal contractor. His mom was in the construction business, and he thought that would be a smart career choice for him as well. Curtis and his wife, Jennifer − they’ve been together since the age of 14 − already had their first child and started a company together. But when a policy change occurred in the General Services Administration in the Chicagoland area, things became much more challenging for their young business. He found it difficult to see a path forward. Without technical experience and with only a HS diploma, he questioned whether he was ready to face the long road he saw ahead.

It was a chance meeting with tech visionary Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab, author of the 1995 best-seller Being Digital and founder of One Laptop per Child that led him to DeVry. Negroponte, after sharing a few thoughts about the future of technology and the direction the government was taking at the time, Curtis decided that DeVry would be the best option for him to start his journey. 

Curtis says the best thing DeVry did for him was transform his feelings of confusion, disappointment and despair into a determination to succeed. He’s grateful to Negroponte for his advice, and to himself for having been smart enough to listen to him all those years ago. 

Once enrolled at DeVry, Curtis took the coursework seriously and knew the completion of every assignment would bring him a step closer to his goal – being able to perform in a professional environment. “Making that commitment actually made me far better than what I’d anticipated and gave me an edge,” Curtis explains, “once I got to that professional environment, I proved that I was something special, and now I’m trusted by the senior-most level folks.” He says his personal brand is one people can trust to create solutions and make things better, faster and smarter in a very fluid working environment.

Following in His Father’s Footsteps

Curtis’ father worked as a laboratory director in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Great Lakes region. He was the lead scientist involved in monitoring, assessing and cleaning up pollution from detergents being dumped into Lake Erie for a number of years. His father was with the EPA for 28 years, retiring in 1994.

Late in his senior year at DeVry, Curtis made an unannounced visit to the EPA’s administrative headquarters. He’d built a computer program to track employee time and attendance and wanted to pitch it to them. Equipped with little more than a great idea and his DeVry-honed tenacity, he pitched the idea to the EPA, only to be told that as federal employees they didn’t need it because they didn’t have to clock in and out. The meeting wasn’t completely fruitless, however. Standing on the side of the room and unaware of Curtis’ familial connection to the agency was the EPA’s lead database administrator for the midwestern U.S., who offered him an internship. Several months later, he and Jennifer packed up, sold their house in Chicago Heights, IL, and moved to Washington, DC, where Curtis joined the EPA as a full-time employee. As it turned out, it wasn’t mom’s footsteps he’d be following, but his dad’s.

As a data management specialist at the EPA after graduation, Curtis was an Envirofacts team member and 1 of 2 lead Java developers on the Database Administration Management team, which created the EPA’s Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Information system (RCRAInfo) from the ground up. Signed into law in 1976, RCRA is the United States’ primary law governing the disposal of solid and hazardous waste. RCRA Online is an electronic database that indexes thousands of letters, memoranda, publications and questions and answers issued by the EPA, including interpretations of the RCRA regulations governing the management of solid, hazardous and medical waste.

Tip of The Spear

Curtis emphasizes that government agencies like the EPA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) look for people who have full technical skillsets in areas like information systems, programming and database management. In 2007, DHS reached out to Curtis with an opportunity to work on an important large-scale immigration data initiative.

Curtis is the department’s Immigration Domain Data Governance Lead and the DHS Standard Tables Authorizing Official, working under the authority of Marc Rosenblum, the DHS Deputy Assistant Secretary and executive level official over the Office of Homeland Security Statistics, who has oversight of the internal and public reporting for the Department. In 2013, Curtis became the lead for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) business intelligence and analytics, and in 2014 developed the full Data Stewardship Tactical Working Group (DSTWG) governance structure and framework for the department. He describes this group as the tip of the spear, leading this federal data stewardship framework forward with a major focus on the accuracy, consistency and timeliness of reference data, and ensuring that it is used appropriately across the organization. 

He says effective reference data management is essential for achieving data integration and interoperability across different systems and reducing operational risks. Without this framework, systems attempting to share critical operational information using non-standard data (such as countries and locations) would experience error and be unable to provide the requested service for an immigrant. 

Among the many organizational partners in the DSTWG are the USCIS, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and Social Security Administration, as well as the Department of State, Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Justice. More than 900 people across the partner organizations contribute to this nation-wide initiative. Curtis leads the DHS Headquarters tactical implementation team and determines the direction of the program’s technical framework.

Family Support Helped Make It Happen

Another life-changing aspect Curtis recalls of his days at DeVry is the support he received from his family. He described how his wife, Jennifer, would take the time to sit with him, support him, and learn from his DeVry coursework, even while handling the roles of business partner, wife and mother. “Throughout my time at DeVry, Jen kept our business going and requested only one thing of me – that I come back with all A’s every semester, which is exactly what I did,” he says, “and how I did that was by sharing the experience with my family.” Jennifer also works for DHS. Since 2012 she’s also been a Data Governance and Strategy Lead for the Immigration Domain.

Curtis and Jennifer’s sons are both a part of the DeVry family as well. Their eldest son, Xavier, who Curtis describes as being “unbelievable in math,” earned a Bachelor’s Degree with a Specialization in Business Intelligence and Analytics Management in 2019. He’s currently serving in the U.S. Navy as a nuclear engineer. Their youngest son, Bishop, is preparing to graduate with his Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Information Systems and plans to pursue a career as a Python developer.

Rounding out this family of high achievers is daughter Sophia, a high school honor student who also attends college classes and is a state track and field Virginia state champion. Curtis would love to see her attend DeVry one day as well.

Prepared to Be in the Fire

Maintaining high praise for DeVry and its curriculum, Curtis says he would not be in the position he’s in today if not for the training and the confidence-building challenges presented in his DeVry coursework. “Had I not been given the opportunity at DeVry to develop my skills to this level, and not taken seriously how to present information and express ideas, I would not have had the courage to walk into that EPA facility and my life would be totally different,” he explains. “DeVry made a promise and delivered on it, particularly in the form of experienced and knowledgeable faculty. For example, the faculty have years of experience with the companies they’re teaching us about. And the problems we were solving at DeVry were far more sophisticated than scenarios I’ve found in the real world.

Curtis says DeVry showed him and his classmates what a rapidly changing professional and technical environment looks like. “It’s a results-driven environment.” He says those challenges prepared him to be “in the fire” every day and gave him skills that he uses with his own teams at DHS. He says there isn’t a problem he and his teams haven’t been able to solve.

Quick to offer guidance and eager to express gratitude for his DeVry training, Curtis enjoys talking to students and sharing his experience with them whenever he can. He shares an emotional connection with many young people. Recently, a young mother told him she feels the same sense of despair he felt all those years ago in Chicago. Facing multiple challenges of family obligations and the rising costs of essentials like gas, groceries and rent, she feels she may have lost control of her life and struggles to find a way forward. But as Curtis was quick to point out, the online learning environment offered by DeVry coupled with the federal government’s recently expanded remote/telework options are creating new opportunities for careers in database administration and cyber security. DeVry’s Women+Tech Scholars and Cyber Security Scholars programs provide additional resources to help students break into technology fields like cyber security, data mining and analytics, cloud computing and other digital specialties. 

Curtis is enthusiastic and proud of his accomplishments. Looking forward with a sense of purpose, he’s inspired by his family and what they’ve achieved together and is driven by his desire for continued professional success. When things get particularly challenging, he will probably look back to those Saturdays on the DeVry campus and think, “Yeah, I’ve got this.”

Considering a Career in Tech? Make Your Mark at DeVry.

Paving your own path here at DeVry begins with one simple step: a conversation. Connect with us to learn more about our Bachelor’s in Computer Information Systems, and how you can explore web app development, coding languages, software testing and more. 

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