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Computer whiz and Running Start student uses intuition to stop would-be hackers

Wyatt PolasekJan. 6, 2020

To stop a hacker, one must think like a hacker, so anytime Wyatt Polasek enters an online competition or tackles a request to the Rogers High School Help Desk, he tries to enter the deep, dark mind of a cybercriminal.

“You have to know exactly what they’re doing and what their next move is,” said the 17-year-old Rogers’ senior and Running Start student at the Community College of Rhode Island.

“It’s like chess. You have to be a couple of moves ahead of them at all times.”

Polasek’s quick thinking and resourceful problem-solving has put him on the fast track to a career in cybersecurity. Thanks to CCRI’s Running Start program, he is getting a leg up on his peers by attending classes at the college’s Newport County Campus as a high school senior.

In 2020, he’ll enroll at CCRI as a Rhode Island Promise scholar with the ultimate goal of transferring to the University of Rhode Island to major in Computer Science with a minor in Cybersecurity. The professors and advisors at CCRI have helped guide Polasek down the right path.

“All my professors love the topic they are teaching, which is encouraging,” Polasek said. “You can spark up a good conversation with any of the teachers here and they are happy to talk to you after class and answer your questions. I’ve had great experiences at CCRI.”

Polasek became fascinated with computer science when his parents bought him an Apple desktop at the age of 11. He began honing his skills behind the keyboard, starting out small by modifying video games for he and his friends, known as “modding” within the gaming community. As he gained more experience, Polasek learned to code and eventually figured out how to detect security breaches on otherwise protected servers, a skill set that would be dangerous in the wrong hands, but beneficial in an industry where privacy is critical.

“Servers contain so much sensitive material, like students’ social security numbers or passwords,” Polasek said. “It’s scary to think what someone with bad intentions who’s really good at hacking could do with it.”

With monstrous data breaches making headlines in recent years – among them, the Target malware hack that compromised the credit card and banking information of more than 40 million customers – Polasek began connecting the dots between his unique ability and a potential career path.

“When I understood the demand in this field, that, for me, cemented the idea of becoming a cybersecurity expert.”

At Rogers, Polasek used his knowledge of computer science to co-create a student Help Desk with the school’s Information Technology (IT) department, a valuable resource for fellow students who needed quick and easily-accessible solutions to common IT problems. The school also offered him a paid a summertime internship as the Help Desk manager. A year later, he took two introductory Computer Science courses at CCRI as a junior with Professor John Mowry through P-TECH RI (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) before enrolling in the Running Start program in 2019.

The ability to take college-level courses and transferrable credits as a high-school senior has given Polasek a renewed sense of focus in the classroom. In addition to his work with the Rogers’ Help Desk, he competes regularly in online cybersecurity competitions – including CyberPatriot, which awards education grants to winners at the national level – and plans to take business courses next year at CCRI to learn how to properly invest his future earnings.

Working in the cybersecurity field will allow him to continue using his intuition and prowess to stop would-be hackers before they strike. 

“It’s really exciting to be 17 and still be a senior, but to be able to push myself and access my career so quickly,” he said. “With computer programming, you can teach yourself basic concepts and you can memorize the codes you need to know, but when it comes down to really understanding how the codes work and finding shortcuts, you really need someone to be a guiding hand. That’s where CCRI has been the most resourceful. The Running Start program has put me on the right path toward achieving my goals.”

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