Skip to main content

Kody Walker’s journey of resilience and influence

The cyber operations and resilience program at Boise State has a secret weapon, Kody Walker. After receiving his Purple Heart and struggling to make meaning in a world turned upside down, Walker found a path into cybersecurity. Overcoming a traumatic brain injury to obtain three degrees in four short years, he imprinted himself and his values onto the cyber operations and resilience program. Walker has become a guiding light for many students in the program, serving as a cheerleader, mentor and teacher over the last few years. His story is one of personal triumph and the transformative power of education and mentorship.

Walker’s military background

Walker’s journey into the world of security and protection began during his military service where he honed his skills in military police duties. He focused on safeguarding high-value targets and providing protection for diplomats and dignitaries. This role often thrust him into the line of fire, exposing him to threats and challenges that demanded constant vigilance and adaptability.

After 20 years of military service and surviving a few different incidents, shootings and a roadside bombing, he began his medical retirement from the military. He was medivacked to Texas to join the Warrior Transition Unit. The Unit was for injured military personnel waiting to see doctors and make the full transition to civilian life. Walker reflected on this part of his story, “During that time, I think it was very devastating because, ultimately, that was my life. I loved it.” He found himself bored with the endless waiting and lack of action.

The transition was not merely a change of scenery but a profound shift in identity and purpose. Walker, who had dedicated his life to protecting others and serving his country, initially found the prospect of civilian life daunting. He began encouraging his peers to use the GI Bill to fund a path to a new career. He was focusing on his recovery but also focused on seeing his military family thrive. “We were able to create an environment for healthy soldiers, they could help out and it gave them some sense of purpose to include a type of job function.” He volunteered around 4,000 hours in a hospice for military veterans as he finished his transition out of the military.

Once he fully transitioned to civilian life, Walker worked for a defense contractor out of Long Island. They wanted to hire him full-time but needed him to get an education first. Even though he had encouraged others in his unit to return to school and earned a plethora of credits, he didn’t have a degree. Walker gives a half-smile as he shares, “I just never figured out what I wanted to do.” But working for the defense contractor, he could see how his military service set him up to be great in cybersecurity and it got him excited for the future again. He quit his job and started to research cybersecurity programs.

Three degrees in four years

Walker applied to the cybersecurity program at the College of Western Idaho. Recognizing the program’s potential to serve as a springboard for his career aspirations, he returned to Idaho and waited to be admitted. While waiting he started taking advantage of online programs like TryHackMe to pick up new skills and fulfill his curiosity. In the spring of 2020, he began his associate of applied science in cybersecurity. Despite the program suddenly transitioning from in-person to online due to COVID-19, he completed his degree in May of 2021.

Initially, Walker thought he would get his associate degree and return to the defense contractor who started it all. Still, something about the Boise State University cyber operations and resilience undergraduate program resonated with him. Walker reflects on that period, “During that time, Dr. Loo [the program director] did an information session with our class. And that’s where I’m like, yeah, this is where I’m going. This is my next move. I started the cyber operations and resilience program in the fall of 2021.”

Intrigued by the program’s promise of advanced coursework and specialized training, Walker wasted no time seizing the opportunity to enroll. Recognizing the potential for personal and professional growth that the cyber operations and resilience program offered, he embraced the challenge.

By December 2022, he had achieved his bachelor’s in cyber operations and resilience. As he navigated the complexities of the program, Walker found himself continually inspired by the wealth of knowledge and expertise surrounding him. Each lesson, assignment and interaction with peers and educators deepened his understanding of cybersecurity, governance, risk and compliance, fueling his passion and igniting his desire to excel. He recognized cybersecurity’s impact on our way of life and how important it is to defend critical infrastructure to ensure the reliability of hospitals, power grids and water treatment facilities. To him, the education he and his peers were receiving at Boise State wasn’t just about personal advancement — it was about equipping themselves to protect America, just as he had done during his time in the military.

When asked why he felt driven to continue through the graduate program, Walker stated, “Whenever I go and put my application in somewhere, wherever it may be, I want to make sure that I bring more to that table. Which usually means, I will probably have more education than my hiring manager.” He leans in and puts on his serious tone, “If I don’t show up with the most I can bring to a table, then I’m robbing myself of an opportunity. Not only is it the opportunity to get a job, but it’s the opportunity to show people there’s more than just a degree and a job. You know, you have to continually feed your education. You gotta continually feed your knowledge, and that’s through education, experience, and certifications.” He leans back and smiles, “No matter where I go, I will be the best representation of myself.”

This May (2024), Walker will graduate with his master’s in cyber operations and resilience.

Networking at Hackfort

During his first semester at Boise State, Walker and his classmate decided to attend the Hackfort event during the fall of 2021, a component of Treefort Music Festival. Engaging with the cybersecurity community, he immersed himself in discussions with Sin Ming Loo, a key figure whose mentorship would shape his future path. During their conversation, Loo recognized Walker’s passion for the program and cyber and wanted his insights into what was and was not working in the program. By the following spring, he began working at Boise State University as a teaching assistant. “So after my first semester going to school in the program. I started TA-ing. And my first TA class was CPS 301, with Sandy Dunn.”

CPS 301, Information Assurance and Critical Thinking, is one of the most challenging courses in the program. It pushes students out of their comfort zones and is often the first time they get to practice looking at cyber problems from every angle with frameworks and context. Walker spent hours with students, coaching them through the complex assignments and cheering them on, reminding them that they are just new, not imposters.

Becoming a mentor

Walker is a guiding force within the program and is revered by many students. Tyler Dibble, a student who once contemplated transferring out after facing challenges in a course, credits Walker with giving him the tools to persevere. Dibble expressed, “Kody is the first real mentor I have ever had. He emphasizes teamwork, collaboration and networking. He helped me make connections with people in the community.” Now actively engaged in the cyber operations and resilience program, Dibble contributes to special projects, the CyberLab and the Discord community, assisting fellow students in finding their path and establishing connections. Reflecting on Walker’s influence, Dibble shared, “I don’t ever look up to other folks, but I do look up to Kody.”

Shea McNama expressed gratitude, noting that without Walker’s support, completing his Master’s degree would have been unlikely, “He has been an excellent influence and sounding board when needed. He is also a great friend.”

Kris Pruett and Walker were the first cohort in the undergraduate cyber operations and resilience program. Pruett underscored the program’s transformative nature, remarking, “Rewiring your brain to think differently can be challenging, and this program requires a bit of that!” Pruett acknowledged some hurdles during the program’s development, noting, “Needless to say, there were many ups and downs throughout the years.”

Despite the challenges in the program, she praised Walker’s unwavering positivity, stating, “Kody was always a positive light throughout the process, never letting the challenges get in the way and always taking the time to provide encouragement and support.” Pruett described him as “one of the most authentic, shoot-you-straight people I know.” She commended Walker’s remarkable dedication to education, noting, “The fact that he not only completed his bachelor’s degree but went back for a master’s while teaching and all of his other responsibilities is awe-inspiring.”

Reflecting on his journey, Walker acknowledged how becoming a TA impacted his personal and professional growth. In this role, he discovered his true calling as a mentor and educator, igniting a newfound sense of purpose and direction in his academic journey. After a year of mentoring students as a teaching assistant, he applied to become a Lecturer.

“When I put my application in for the cyber operations and resilience program they had to jump through a lot of hoops to get me hired and had to get a lot of signature sign-offs because I only had a bachelor’s degree. But I believe, in the end, it was probably the best thing I’ve ever done because I can make amazing global impacts on students every day at the program. at least 50% of students, if not more.”

Walker makes his mark

Walker not only teaches a diverse range of courses but also spearheads innovative special projects aimed at enriching students’ learning experiences and preparing them for real-world challenges. Currently, he is teaching several courses, each designed to equip students with the skills and knowledge necessary to thrive in cybersecurity. Among them are the capstone courses, the Internet of Things and cyber systems hardening.

In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Walker is deeply involved in leading various special projects to enhance students’ practical skills and foster community engagement. These projects reflect his commitment to innovation and a desire to bridge the gap between academia and industry. Some of the notable special projects spearheaded by Walker are transitioning a niche Discord channel from a former student and current adjunct professor to a server managed by current students for all cyber operations and resilience students, the CORe Learning Lab and building more internship opportunities for students outside of Idaho.

Walker also plays a pivotal role in establishing partnerships with industry partners to provide real-world projects to students for their capstone course. He lights up, explaining, “We work with small towns, small communities, rural school districts and tribal entities. That will give them a cyber risk assessment for free.” These projects offer students invaluable practical experience and the opportunity to work on challenging cybersecurity problems in collaboration with industry professionals.

What’s next for Walker

Central to Walker’s vision is the legacy he hopes to leave behind — one of global impact through education and mentorship. Reflecting on personal philosophy, he underscored the importance of selflessness and aiding others, drawing parallels between his dedication to cybersecurity education and his previous experiences in hospice care.

Walker envisions creating a self-sustaining student mentorship program so that graduating students can mentor new students as they come in. He knows that classes need updating continually to stay relevant: “You know, part of the whole thing about cyber is, everything is constantly in flux. Everything’s changing.” He plans to be here to ensure that classes are challenging enough to push students out of their comfort zones but not torture them.

For Walker, getting his master’s degree is only the beginning. He has no plans to leave Boise State. Building a more cyber-secure workforce starts with education, and as part of the cyber operations and resilience program, he is in the perfect place to impact the world. He beams, “I feel this is my calling, and I will continue down this path, making a global impact. One student at a time.”