“For me, just being here is a milestone, doing skilled labor, being in a situation where my opinion matters. I never expected to be in a place like this 10 years ago.”
Patrick Vilkinofsky has no idea where he would be today had it not been for a Florida law that prohibits minors from getting a driver’s license unless they’re pursuing or have earned a high school diploma or GED®.
“I didn’t apply myself,” said the self-proclaimed computer geek, recalling how he dropped out of school at age 16. “It just didn’t work for me. I didn’t see the point behind it.” At least not until a year or so later when he decided it was time to get that driver’s license. “Change is often reactive, not proactive,” he said with a sly grin.
Today, Vilkinofsky is a star student in Daytona State College’s Bachelor of Science in Engineering Technology (BSET) program, expecting to complete his degree in December. At 30 years old, the self-proclaimed late-comer to college life also works part time as a senior technical specialist with the Advanced Cyberforensics Education Consortium (ACE), led by Daytona State and engineering professors Philip Craiger and Mark Pollitt. ACE, comprised of nine colleges and universities throughout the Southeast, was created through a $1.8 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant initiative to foster digital forensics education.
In his work for ACE at Daytona State’s Advanced Technology College (ATC), Vilkinofsky builds and maintains virtual machines for labs and administers the learning management system for the web-based cybersecurity curriculum being developed and shared by the consortium members.
In October, he had the chance to join his supervisors, Craiger and Pollitt, at the 20th National Advanced Technological Education Principal Investigators Conference in Washington, D.C., hosted by the American Association of Community Colleges and NSF. There he participated in a student roundtable discussion and came away with a Student Award for Excellence. The conference brought together more than 850 people representing community and four-year colleges, business and industry, secondary school systems and research and development centers covering a wide range of technology projects.
It’s all quite a turnaround for a young man who confessed that education in general was not always his cup of tea. But nowadays, he can’t get enough of it.
“I consider myself very lucky,” he said. “As much as I wish I would have started college earlier just so I could have my degree sooner, I know I wouldn’t be where I am now or have the opportunities I have now. Things fall into place if you let them, once you take that first step.”
After earning his GED® from Daytona State (at the time Daytona Beach Community College) in 2000, Vilkinofsky cruised around the retail industry for a while, making $10 an hour and living in Orlando with roommates, paying his share of the bills with money left over, but no chance for advancement.
Ten years went by, and he felt a push to try something new. He had always enjoyed computers as a hobby, particularly the security side of information technology. “Eventually, I got the idea that maybe I can do something more with my computer interests, that maybe it doesn’t have to be just for fun,” he said.
In spring 2010 Vilkinofsky made the move, starting his first networking certificate class at the ATC. As he progressed in his classes, he decided to pursue an associate of science degree in network systems technology, which he earned in 2011.That degree became his springboard into the BSET program.
His next step is to pursue a master’s degree in digital forensics at the University of Central Florida and then a Ph.D. “I want to see how far I can actually take it,” he said.
But today, he’s enjoying his time at Daytona State. “For me, just being here is a milestone, doing skilled labor, being in a situation where my opinion matters. I never expected to be in a place like this 10 years ago.”
Looking back, he said the most important step he has taken in his educational journey was to get started. “Getting my degree at 30, well, it’s not terribly old, but it’s not 21 either,” he noted. “But then, it’s not a race. It’s not too late to start. The important thing is to just finish.”