Computer Engineering Student Donates Five Million Air Miles to Student Organizations

September 16, 2016

Ryan Pickren's Cybersecurity Savvy Yields One of the Largest In-kind Donations By a Current Undergraduate

Ryan Pickren, a senior computer engineering major in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is donating five million United Airlines miles to Georgia Tech student organizations that participate in charity work.

Pickren has been earning miles in United’s Bug Bounty Program since October 2015. The program, started in May 2015, incentivizes researchers to identify and report potential security issues that could affect the company’s websites, apps, or online portals. Mileage awards can range in value based upon a qualifying bug’s potential impact to United or the airline’s customers. Since the program’s inception, Pickren has been the most successful participant, earning more than twice as many miles as any other participant.

"Ryan is an exceptionally talented researcher and a big reason why our program has been so successful," said Arlan McMillan, United's chief information security officer. "His creative submissions have helped strengthen our security environment, and we are grateful for his partnership and professionalism."

Pickren was inspired to try the program after taking an “Introduction to Cybersecurity” course with Professor Raheem Beyah. Beyah mentioned the program to his students and Pickren was immediately intrigued.

Initially compelled by the possibility of free air travel, Pickren soon found that working the program had other benefits. “I took a look at the program and realized how fun it was. My main motivation to keep at it was that I found it fascinating,” said Pickren.

Upon realizing his success in the program, Pickren knew he wanted to give back to the Institute that taught him everything he knows about cybersecurity and computer bugs.

 “I wanted to help student organizations that help others by removing one hurdle they face in the funding game--air travel. With these miles, Tech’s student organizations that do charity work should be set for airfare for a long time,” said Pickren.

The gift is one of the largest in-kind donations made to the Institute by a current undergraduate student.

“We couldn’t be prouder of Ryan. We always enjoy seeing how our students apply the knowledge they gain in class to real-world challenges. Not only is he applying that in an incredibly creative way, he is sharing his success with current and future Georgia Tech students. It is a generous, inspired, and impressive legacy — all while he is still a student. Wow!” said Steven W. McLaughlin, Steve W. Chaddick School Chair of ECE at Georgia Tech.

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