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A Wonderful Honors Journey

From Provo to Poland and Beyond

Senior Honors student James Lakko owes a lot to the science fiction series Star Trek. Not only did it influence his passion for technology, but it also plays a central role in his Honors Thesis, titled Exploring the Discipline of Wonder through Active Participation Cybersecurity Learning. While wonder is an important part of James’s thesis, his journey to that thesis topic is equally wonderful.

A dear childhood memory for James is visiting the Christa McAuliffe Space Center in Pleasant Grove, Utah. The center has several model spaceships in which students dress up, are given specific crew assignments, and roleplay Star Trek-inspired space adventure scenarios. Thinking through problems and conversing with the team teaches students critical thinking and communication skills while engaging the students with a compelling storyline. James visited the simulator multiple times over his childhood, later volunteering as a teen leader, and each time his excitement and passion for technology grew.

Fast forward to James’s junior year of college, when he was reminded of this wonder he felt as a child. While participating in a cybersecurity event in the basement of the Crabtree Technology Building, James learned of BYU's Star Trek simulator called the Interactive Cybersecurity Experience (ICE). In ICE, eight participants are given roles and a mission, which they complete by decoding messages, solving cybersecurity puzzles, and communicating as a team. The competitive atmosphere helps motivate learning in a fun, engaging way.

James saw potential in this simulator. There is a significant deficiency of cybersecurity professionals due to lack of motivation to enter a field often seen as dull and solitary. By using this simulator more heavily, James hopes to see an increase in engagement and interest in the cybersecurity field. His thesis looks at participants’ responses to the simulator during the annual Cybersecurity Camp. In the camp, groups learn about hardware, computers, and security through talks, workshops, and the simulator. After the camp, James sent out surveys to see how the simulator influenced the experience of the campers. He then separated the campers into boys, girls, and educators and used statistical analysis to see if there was a difference in responses between the three groups.

Since statistical analysis can be completed anywhere with a computer, James decided it was time to do a bit of travel. He analyzed data for his thesis while simultaneously working on a Qualtrics assignment in Poland at their Security Operations Center. Qualtrics has security operators in both Utah and Poland, which ensures that someone will be available to help 24/7. James had been working for Qualtrics for two years already when he negotiated a semester in Krakow, Poland, funded by scholarship study abroad money. While there, James loved seeing his teammates’ faces in-person that he had previously only seen via Zoom. He said the transition to Poland wasn't too difficult, since his whole team spoke English; Polish youth often learn English in school. Seeing ancient castles and preserved architecture, however, stunned him daily.

Instead of just working the days away, James made sure to explore the city as much as possible. This included multiple trips to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, which dates back to the Middle Ages, as well as the concentration camp Auschwitz in nearby Oświęcim, Poland. When asked about the experience, James said, “No doubt my visit to the prison, extermination, and slave labor concentration camps of Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau were powerful, even more so due to my BYU Honors experience. In my Literature and Physics Unexpected Connections course, I had the opportunity to research and create a poster about Petr Ginza Czechoslovak, a teen of partial Jewish descent who, in his short lifetime, wrote five novels, illustrated those novels, kept an extensive journal (which was published in 2008), and documented his time in the Theresienstadt ghetto. Despite his deplorable treatment, he was outstandingly creative and positive. My having the opportunity to stand at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp memorial and realize that Petr was brought by train to this place and immediately murdered in a deplorable gas chamber was heart wrenching.” James stated that visiting Auschwitz was a necessity for rounding out his Honors journey as well as his personal journey.

James is a Cybersecurity major with minors in Computer Science and Business. After graduating in December 2021, he plans to continue working for Qualtrics on their Security Operations Team, continue traveling, and eventually complete a Master’s. He also plans to continue showing kids that cybersecurity is actually really cool. He enjoys designing formats for 3D printed objects and, as a Provo native, loves to mountain bike on the local trails. No doubt his wonderful journey will continue well beyond graduation!