Faculty Spotlight: John Valkovci
Associate Professor of Cybersecurity
(Editor's Note: A special thank you goes to Dr. Thomas Woods for this insightful profile of his colleague.)
John Valkovci is a Renaissance Man: a United States Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corp litigator, Department of Justice Assistant United States Attorney, certified auto mechanic who restores classic muscle cars, and devoted family man. His myriad of talents are brought to bear as an Assistant Professor of Cybersecurity at Saint Francis University and SFU is a better place because he is working on our team!
A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown with a degree in Political Science, John attended law school at the University of Richmond. John accepted a commission into the JAG Corp during his third year in law school; he attended Officer’s Indoctrination School and then Naval Justice School in Newport, Rhode Island after completing his Juris Doctorate degree and passing the bar exam. He was assigned to the USS Grasp before being stationed at the Naval Legal Service Office at the Norfolk Naval Station. During his military career John traveled to Iceland, Bermuda, Panama, and Guantanamo Bay. After leaving the service John spent 28 years with the Department of Justice as an Assistant United States Attorney.
Attorney John Valkovci’s career as a Navy JAG officer evolved out of his desire to serve his country and to be a litigator. Following in the military footsteps of his father who served and fought in the Korean War and a brother who served in the army, John was drawn to the JAG as a way of serving his “country and its Constitution.” His foray into cybersecurity began when he became a federal prosecutor. In order to thwart and effectively prosecute cybercrime cases, John found himself attending Department of Justice sponsored trainings and pursuing the industry’s certifications. To be an effective litigator John earned credentials as a Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Mobile Forensics Examiner and he continues to study, train and prepare for credentials as a Certified Hacking Forensics Investigator and a Certified Blockchain Professional.
In this photo: John with his wife, Kathy, at the JAG Corps Officer’s Indoctrination School
After retiring from government service in 2018, Mr. Valkovci found himself a man with a wealth of academic training and diverse professional experiences who was being courted by a host of academic and industry entities. “I had several offers for full-time teaching positions, but the best fit by far was Saint Francis. Having taught at other schools, it was clear that Saint Francis was and is committed to its Cybersecurity program. The administration at Saint Francis appreciates the importance of Cybersecurity in today’s world, and is dedicated to creating a cutting-edge, multi-disciplinary program”.
While the SFU Cybersecurity program is only three years old, John, the Cyber Defense and Forensics Coordinator, asserts that the program is one of the strongest, most well-developed programs in the area. “We offer more certifications and have a more diverse curriculum than any school of which I am aware”. Working collaboratively with his SFU colleague Dr. Dan Wetklow, Professor of Computer Science, the duo has created 14 new cybersecurity courses and five specialized tracks within the major including Digital Forensics, Ethical Hacking and Blockchain-Cryptocurrency Development. The program is growing. The program is succeeding. The program is providing students with strong, marketable skills with which to enter the cybersecurity workforce. John speaks proudly of his students’ successes, sharing that former students are now working in places such as the “FBI, DOD, IRS as well as private companies and organizations.”
John has the heart of a teacher and it is overtly apparent when you spent time with him. John says that he draws motivation from his students; clearly he is a student-centered faculty member. Philosophically, John is an unapologetic advocate of educational experiences that hone critical thinking and reasoning skills. Practically, John plants his flag in the pedagogical bedrock which affirms that “students learn best by doing.” To that end, “I incorporate extensive hand-on components into my cyber courses. I also incorporate as many real-world examples and scenarios as possible into my courses.” Experiences gained as a JAG Corp litigator and Assistant US Attorney allow John to share stories and examples with his students that “you simply won’t find in any textbook.”
John has the vibe of an educator. He emanates an overt passion for teaching and for his students. His department chair calls him “tireless and motivated.” His colleagues marvel at his creativity, professionalism and his drive to be successful. Noted one colleague: “In terms of teaching and energy, John certainly has an ‘A-game’ and he brings it to his classes and to his students!” It is hard not to get swept up in the wave of palpable enthusiasm that emanates from John when he talks about students and the work they do together in cybersecurity. Dr. Rachel Wagner, Department Chair of the SFU Math, Engineering, and Computer Science Departments, asserts that students in the SFU Cybersecurity program are learning from a teacher with an unbelievable amount practical, real life experience in his field who is also impressively passionate about his discipline, deeply dedicated to the SFU program and enthusiastic about teaching students. “He is a gem!” comments Dr. Wagner. “He is committed to keeping the bar high for students and showing students how they can reach it!” Dr. Dan Wetklow comments: “As a prosecutor John had to learn how criminals ‘do what they’ do in order to prosecute them; now John is teaching our students the practical skills they will need to be successful in cyber security. His classes are less theory and more practical application of knowledge. The strategy works. John’s classes are very popular; students really like his classes and they really like him.”
Campus colleagues describe John as “cerebral” and “intellectually curious.” When asked about the state of cybercrime in our society John warns that “cybercrime is terrifyingly easy to commit” and he worries that people do not understand and appreciate the magnitude of the problem. “But, as bad as the cybercrime problem is, from my perspective we face an even greater threat. This greater threat is the erosion of our individual and societal privacy, and it’s being fostered by our thirst for technology and our addiction to social media. While the cybercrime problem can be effectively mitigated with education, awareness, and law enforcement training, the decay of our privacy can’t and won’t be addressed as long as people are eager and willing to sacrifice their individual privacy in exchange for the convenience promised by technology.”
John considers his life to have been blessed by many great educators and strong professional influencers, however, without hesitation, John asserts that his wife Kathy has been his role model and inspiration. “We met our junior year in high school and have been together since. She is an incredibly strong person with an amazing sense of humor, and every day she makes me want to be a better person.” Together they have raised four children. In addition to playing golf, tennis and working together on various home improvements, the couple also restores classic cars! “Quality time” for the Valkovci family includes welding automobile quarter panels and vehicular frame construction. “While an undergrad, I attended night school for auto mechanics. It was my “Plan B” just in case. A few years ago, my wife and I completed a complete frame-off restoration of a 1971 Chevelle SS in which we did all the work ourselves. She has a 1967 Mustang fastback we’re restoring now.”
John is a certified auto mechanic with a passion for restoration. He and his wife completed a complete frame-off restoration of a 1971 Chevelle SS a few years ago.
John Valkovci is a deep thinker, a kind soul, a talented individual with a diverse array of reflections and interests. The answer John provided to the final question I asked during our interview punctuated the depth and breadth of the man.
Question: If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, fictional or non-fictional, who would you invite with and why would you invite each? Participants cannot be related to you.
Answer: Mary Magdalene – "Mary Magdalene may have been closer to Christ than any of the apostles, even Peter. From the canonical gospels, we know that Mary was among those who stood courageously at the foot of the cross while the apostles – other than John - cowered in fear and denied Christ. She was also the first person to have seen the risen Lord. Her faith, courage, and strength must have been incredible. As a student of history, and a Catholic Christian, I can think of none better to share a meal and listen to her descriptions of the events at those moments."
General George S. Patton – "I have read much about military leaders throughout history. In my opinion, General Patton was one of the most brilliant strategists and commanders in any era, and deserves much of the credit for our success in the European Theater during World War II."
Jules Verne – "I have been intrigued by Verne’s novels since grade school. How could a person who lived decades before we landed on the moon or built nuclear powered submarines have envisioned such things with such accuracy? His brilliance and imagination have cemented his novels as true classics in literature. I am sure he must have a million stories he could share over dinner and drinks.”
Scholar, tradesman, hands-on student focused teacher, student of history and advocate of the rights and privileges that the United States Constitution bestows upon all of our citizenry, SFU faculty member and attorney John Valkovci is, as his Chairperson Dr. Rachel Wagner describes, truly a “gem.”