Discovering much about himself, and developing the desire both to live and to learn have placed Jonathan Day in an arguably unique position and experience, as a member of Ferris State University’s Spring 2019 graduating class.
Day is a student in Ferris’ highly-regarded Information Security and Intelligence program, but he reached that pinnacle after more than a decade of psychological and physical struggle following graduation from Northview High School, in Kent County’s Plainfield Township.
“I played music in high school ensembles and other groups,” Day said. “I was a total band geek, and that was my focus as I began studies at a small liberal arts college, in Ohio. However, I simply wasn’t ready to deal with the availability of alcohol in my first experience away from home, so I had a ‘one and done’ after my first semester of higher education.”
Day returned home and enrolled in Grand Rapids Community College, with a mind to complete his general education requirements, and consider the pursuit of a four-year degree.
“I looked into Criminal Justice, Business and Psychology, with results in the classroom that you might describe as academic ‘feast or famine,’” Day said. “I took on a full-time job and ran into other substance abuse issues. By the Spring 2011, my life was spiraling out of control, and my family gave me the options of getting lost or getting help. I chose the latter and checked into a treatment facility.”
Day continued in treatment and took a human resources position with a regional health insurance provider, but his substance abuse issues rose up again, with Jonathan reaching perhaps the lowest point in his life experience.
“I had a single-car crash, where I was trapped in my vehicle for hours,” Day said. “I needed to be extricated from the car by the ‘Jaws of Life.’ As part of my care and recovery after the accident, I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, triggered by auto travel and chronic pain. Unable to cope, I attempted suicide, during which time I suffered cardiac arrest and a mild stroke. I have come out of a really dark place.”
A watershed moment for Jonathan in his path to recovery was acknowledging the impact of stress and physical pain to his caregivers and himself. Counseling, multiple surgeries and recognizing his need for outside assistance, in the form of a 12-step recovery program helped Day to begin his personal ascent.
“I had rods placed in my back, due to childhood scoliosis,” Jonathan said. “The rods broke in the car crash, and I asked the surgeon if I could keep the pieces. The reminder of how close I came to dying, or being paralyzed help me stay focused on the gift of sobriety. I feel that it is important that I am able to give back to others who might benefit from my story, and the encouragement I can offer. That’s why I can’t shy away from sharing details that others might keep private. We need to remove the social stigma so that more people can get help.”
One last obstacle arose for Day, in March 2016. An outpatient surgery to remove his gallbladder was not followed by swift recuperation.
“My mother had to rush me to the hospital, because I was in septic shock, and my temperature reached 105 degrees,” Day said. “I suffered heart failure, but I survived.”
Day said that near-death experience was a wake-up call to find a direction for his focus and energies.
“I knew I wanted to pursue information security, and to do so in a top-flight program,” Day said. “Ferris’ reputation as one of the best programs in the entire country made that choice easy. I was ready to go across the country if need be, but the perfect program was right in my backyard. It was real serendipity. It gave me a chance to approach my education with a completely new perspective from the comfort of my home. I vowed to go above and beyond as a full-time student while maintaining a focus on my recovery and my history. I consider it a testament to what Ferris offers in Information Security, the quality of the program, that it inspired me so.”
Jonathan has moved steadily through the curriculum’s requirements in the last three years, seeing opportunity in what each subject and session could present to him.
“At one point, I decided to engross myself in programming, and became a tutor for struggling students when we were studying Python,” Day said. “Whether it involved practical labs, a particular piece of technology, a new type of software, I took an ‘I want to know more’ attitude every step of the way.”
The challenge of the Current Issues in Information Security course brought Day into the National Cyber League, an educational experiment in learning and gaming that was established as a nonprofit nearly eight years ago.
“I was a little nervous, it was something outside my experience, but I decided to give it my all,” Day said. “In Spring 2018, I wound up doing incredibly well, reaching the 95th percentile by finishing 113th out of 2,453 participants. In Fall 2018, I moved up to the 97th percentile, coming in 101st out of 3,324 players. This semester I cracked the Top 100, ranking 87th out of 4,461.”
Through his participation in the National Cybersecurity Student Association, Jonathan was encouraged to apply for a stipend from the National CyberWatch Center to attend the 2018 Community College Cyber Summit, a leading event for students in cybersecurity. That collaborative of education institutions, businesses and government funded Day’s trip to Portland for the event, last August.
“It was a great experience, and I am thankful for the assistance that allowed me to take part in 2018’s 3CS,” Day said. “I was able to meet other students and make connections with government and corporate employers.”
Day also earned a first-place award for network design in the Midwest Collegiate Computing Conference, with a third-place finish in its cybersecurity competition, where he teamed with ISI senior Scott Landhuis, of Byron Center.
As Day began his senior year, he visited the main campus of Ferris for the first time, looking to build on his success in online learning and classes at Ferris-Grand Rapids.
“I can see the value of being around the program’s home base, to speak more regularly with my professors, beyond the acquaintance that comes from online classwork,” Day said. “It was great to have that exposure as I started into studies like cloud computing. In hindsight, I wish I’d spent a lot more time on campus.”
Ferris’ ISI program was designated as an Amazon Web Services Educate Academy, for the Fall 2018 semester, which presents the opportunity for students to be certified as Cloud Practitioners and achieve other high-demand certifications. Day was among 11 students who acquired that certification.
“The rapid adoption of the cloud by the business world is a game-changer, particularly in my profession,” Day said. “The cloud can provide solutions for some really formidable IT tasks, with several clicks of a mouse producing results that might represent weeks of work for a whole team in a traditional data center. After earning the Cloud Practitioner certification, I was given the opportunity to expand my knowledge of the cloud by taking an independent study under the guidance of my advisor, Gerald Emerick, to earn my AWS Solutions Architect Associate certification, which I obtained on April 10. I love that the ISI program was flexible in allowing me to pursue an interest as an independent study. For my senior capstone, I earned the Certified Ethical Hacker designation. I will also graduate as a CompTIA IT Operations Specialist and a Secure Infrastructure Specialist. In each of these pursuits, I have found it fun to do the work and dwell in each project, to look for everything that can be learned through them.”
Day’s keen desire to learn has resulted in excellence as a student. Jonathan has been recognized on the Dean’s List each semester he has attended Ferris, and will graduate Summa Cum Laude from the College of Business.
“I missed a 4.0 GPA by choosing to watch the start of March Madness in 2018, instead of investing appropriate time for my studies in an accelerated-pace class,” Day said. “I was distracted, not paying attention to the deadlines, but I simply view that result as another learning experience. Now I have a lasting reminder on the importance of time management and attention to detail.”
While Day considers several high-paying corporate opportunities following his commencement Saturday, May 11, he knows his desire to learn will be a lifelong quest.
“One big adjustment might be to develop a ‘9-to-5’ lifestyle, since three years of taking mostly online classes allowed me to choose my time to study,” Day said. “However, following that time out of the workforce I am looking forward to making that adjustment. It also seems it is more a matter of when, rather than if I will pursue Ferris’ Master of Science degree in ISI. It’ll be a lot of work, but hopefully also a lot of fun to meet work obligations and complete my graduate studies. It should be interesting.”