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Getting a Jump-Start on Career Plans

By Barbara A. Preston - Jan 13, 2018

FBI Special Agent Michael A. Petronella with fourth-grader Joseph Conway

Joseph Conway, age 9, got a jump-start on his future career plans by attending the Montgomery High School Career Night in December. While he was significantly younger than the hundreds of teenagers who attended the event with their parents, he went because he "wanted to meet Army and FBI people."

"If the NFL does not work out," Joseph says he would be interested in working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) some day. "There's a lot of cool stuff involved in the FBI, like hacking and the secret things they do."

Joseph already knows people in the right places who can give him access to all kinds of interesting people and opportunities. His mother is MHS School Guidance Counselor Maureen Conway.

Though only a fourth-grader at St. Paul's elementary in Princeton, Joseph has expanded his network to include FBI Supervisory Special Agent Michael A. Petronella, who let him try on his 40-pound bulletproof vest at the event.

"It felt like if someone was going to attack me, I would be safe," Joseph says, after he jogged around the cafeteria floor to get a feel for the vest.

Petronella, a Belle Mead resident and Montgomery First Aid Squad volunteer, talked about how the FBI protects the laws of the United States and shared anecdotes. When he was a medic for the SWAT team, he had to wear his heavy vest. Now he is a supervisor of the computer analysis response team.

"I'm in charge of preserving, acquiring, and exploiting digital media from computers and devices," he says. "If it stores data, it's our job to get it out. Criminals disguise data in many ways; mostly thumb drives made to look like something innocuous like a pen or a key chain.

"I love coming to work because every day is different," he adds. For example, the FBI sent him to Romania for three weeks on cyber investigation of a bulletproof hosting site." These are generally powerful malicious sites used by cyber criminals to steal data from unsuspecting users. The sites are immune from takedown requests and pressure from Western law enforcement agencies, and are used by spammers and providers of online gambling or illegal pornography.

Petronella was one of about 30 presenters at the career night representing a variety of fields, including: corporate sales, the ministry, first responders, heat/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC), fitness, hair styling, occupational therapy, health care, and journalism. Several college representatives also attended.

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