Student Profile: Michael Valenzuela

Hometown
Freeport, N.Y.
Major
B.S., Computer Science - Network Security
Year Expected to Graduate
2022
Campus
Long Island
Student Profile: Michael Valenzuela

Keeping Networks Secure

Michael Valenzuela always had a passion for computers, solving problems, and helping people. It wasn’t until he got to New York Institute of Technology that his true calling in cybersecurity became clear. In September, he received the coveted Department of Defense Cyber Scholarship. He sat down with The Box to talk about the sought-after scholarship and his experience at New York Tech so far.

Were you always interested in cybersecurity?
I have always been good with phones and computers. My whole life I’ve been helping people with their technology needs and issues, from helping family members connect to Wi-Fi to developing websites for information technology (IT) companies. I have always had to keep myself up to date with the latest and the greatest innovations.

I knew I had a talent in technology but didn’t know if I should keep helping others with their basic tech needs and go into IT, or choose another computer-based career. When I started working for an IT company, I quickly learned that I did not enjoy picking up calls and resetting passwords multiple times a week. So, I turned my attention to programming. I started buying courses in computer languages like C++ and JavaScript. I made several websites and even revamped an IT company website. Fast forward to my freshman year at New York Tech. I was amazed at the number of clubs and resources that had a focus on cybersecurity. After making new friends that regularly participate in hackathons and national cybersecurity events, I have officially made up my mind to pursue a cybersecurity career, which is why I chose computer science – network security as my focus.

Congratulations on being a recipient of the Department of Defense Cyber Scholarship. Can you tell us a little about how you found out and what that has meant for you?
When I found out about the Department of Defense Cyber Scholarship, it was only one week away from the deadline. At first, I paid no attention, but then I remembered I applied to a similar scholarship by the same provider back in my senior year of high school and got an interview, but was declined because I wasn’t 18 years old yet. So, I decided to go for it.

But that meant I only had a week to write an in-depth, five-page paper about my knowledge and experience, get two letters of recommendation from teachers, and provide all my official transcripts. Thanks to the help of my friends and teachers, I was able to obtain and hand in the necessary documents in only four days.

What has your experience at New York Tech been like so far?
Once I started to get involved with everything New York Tech had to offer, I knew I made the right choice. I wake up every morning looking forward to classes and hanging out around campus. I started getting involved with so many things around campus that I am usually there from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. every school day.

I am currently involved in Greek Life as a proud member of Tau Kappa Epsilon and the eSports Call of Duty team. I am also involved in the ACM club (Association for Computing Machinery). I also like to attend hackathons and theater plays, and I still make time to play pool, basketball, baseball, and football with friends. I always have a side project every semester, like when I built an arcade machine or wrote code to give E.R.R.S.E.L.A. (ETIC Research Robot for Student Engagement and Learning Activities robot) emotions.

What are your plans for the future?
Someday, I want to own a company that provides network security solutions to local businesses. New York Tech has provided me the opportunity to start my career in cybersecurity with a secured job in the Department of Defense when I graduate. If it wasn’t for New York Tech, I would still have been undecided about my career and would have been looking for internships and job opportunities.

What is one thing about you people might be surprised to find out?
My Toyota 4Runner is the same age as me. My dad bought a brand-new Toyota 4Runner a week before I was born. When my pregnant mother was ready to deliver, on the way to the hospital, my father said, “One day, Michael will drive this car to college.” And here I am, driving it to college.