Hugh Downs School Dean's Medalist finds a career in digital communication

December 9, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates.

Victoria "Tori" Vandekop is the Fall 2020 Dean's Medalist for the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. She will graduate in December with a bachelor's degree in communication and a certificate in cross-sector leadership.  Belle Edson (right), director of undergraduate education in the Hugh Downs School, presents the Barnes Endowment in Communication Scholarship to Tori Vandekop in 2019. Download Full Image

Vandekop says her interest in communication started at a young age when people noticed how expressive she was when she spoke.  

"My grandparents love how much I use my hands and facial expressions when telling stories, and that process of communication — creating joy and understanding within others — has long been an interest of mine," she says.

The Dallas native chose ASU when she was awarded a scholarship from ASU's Next Generation Service Corps, a four-year leadership development program that requires students to complete three internships throughout their time at ASU, one in each sector: nonprofit, private and public.

For her nonprofit internship, Vandekop, who is passionate about environmental issues, chose Defend Our Future, a nonpartisan activist group centered on climate change. There she participated in canvassing, phone banking, data entry, public speaking and voter registration.

Tori Vandekop and fellow students at a tabling event.

"I also met with local and state legislators, created campus and community events to spread awareness on environmental issues, and helped the ASU chapter sign up 12,000+ students and community members through canvassing."

A student in Barrett, The Honors College at ASU, Vandekop chose to combine her interest in the environment with her honor's thesis, "A Science Communicator's Guide to Social Media Engagement."

She says the project combined her passion for human communication theories, digital audience engagement and science communication.

"The guide empowers science communicators to utilize social media in a way that can increase their digital audience engagement, expand the reach of their research and ultimately amplify their professional presence in the scientific community," Vandekop says.

In addition to her studies, Vandekop has also been a student worker in three positions over her four years at ASU: front desk worker for the Barrett student center, digital communications intern for the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science, and a research aide for the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics.  

"Through each of those jobs, I learned important skills such as event management, effective digital marketing and audience engagement. Juggling work and classes is a full-time job, but thankfully I made it through with the support of my friends and family, and most importantly my perseverance," she says. 

Reflecting on her time at ASU, Vandekop — who received the Barnes Endowment in Communication Scholarship from the Hugh Downs School in 2019 — says one of the greatest classes she took was The Communication of Happiness, taught by Hugh Downs School Graduate Teaching Associate Cris Tietsort.

"The lesson plans and assignments he did for us taught me so much about mental health, personal growth and overall happiness. I am so happy I took his class, and I recommend it to anyone who needs an upper-division credit," Vandekop says.

"Tori was a joy to have in class," said Tietsort. "What impressed me most was her ability to engage the content of the course both at an intellectual and personal level. In other words, she was intellectually curious and worked hard to understand the conceptual and theoretical foundations of happiness and well-being, but also pushed herself to ask 'How will this make a difference in my life this week?' Above all of this, Tori is kind, enthusiastic and always tried to get to know her classmates. The class became richer because of her presence and engagement." 

Tori Vandekop

We asked Vandekop to answer a few more questions about her time at ASU.

Question: What's something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: When studying American Sign Language for two years at ASU, I was surprised at how my ASL classes (with zero verbal communication) were the classes I communicated the most in out of any of my communication classes. It was an amazing experience to practice the beautiful language of ASL at ASU, and it changed my perspective on deaf/HH (hard of hearing) culture. I'm inspired to be a strong ally of this community, and in my communications work, I always incorporate the necessary accommodations so that everyone can understand my work (closed captioning, text descriptions for those with visual impairments).

Question: What's the best piece of advice you'd give to those still in school?

Answer: I would tell students to be appreciative and gracious to anyone that helps them along the way. Gratitude is one of the most important lessons I learned from my Communication of Happiness class, and it's something I actively strive to practice every day!

Question: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

Answer: My favorite spot on campus is a pink bougainvillea plant on Tyler Mall, right across from Neeb Hall. I'm originally from Texas, so when I saw this huge pink plant for the first time on campus, I knew it was my favorite place at ASU. My fiancé recently proposed to me on that very spot during our graduation photos — it was so special.

Question: What are your plans after graduation?

Answer: My fiancé and I are moving back to Texas to start our careers. I plan on working in digital communications, and he will be working as an applications engineer for Texas Instruments.

Question: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

Answer: I would use the $40 million to provide internet and technological access to communities that don't currently have access to those resources. We've all seen how the power of information and education can change a life. If I had the money, I would try to give internet access to as many children and families as possible so they can have digital resources, educational tools, entertainment and all the other wonderful possibilities that come with the World Wide Web.


Manager, Marketing and Communication, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication


Computer science grad finds success and a new academic family in cybersecurity

December 10, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates.

Once Zion Leonahenahe Basque applied his computer science knowledge from the classroom to applied cybersecurity research, he knew he was on the right path. Zion Leonahenahe  Basque Zion Leonahenahe Basque. Download Full Image

“Working on novel and impactful research made me realize that I wanted to stay in this field for the rest of my life,” Basque said.

Basque has spent most of his time at Arizona State University working in the Laboratory of Security Engineering for Future Computing, also known as SEFCOM. His first project there was to apply machine learning to the automated hacking process.

“It was really motivating to see how impressed my professors were when I completely explored a new domain in my field,” Basque said.

Since then he has worked on large government-funded grants and contributed to two papers submitted to top cybersecurity conferences.

He considers the SEFCOM lab team — assistant professors Yan Shoshitaishvili, Ruoyu “Fish” Wang and Youzhi “Tiffany” Bao, Associate Professor Adam Doupé and computer science doctoral student Erik Trickle — his “academic family.” Through their mentorship, Basque learned he could be a hacker who uses his skills for good, and even took a graduate course as a first-year student.

“They have changed who I am as a person. I am on a different path than before I met them, and I think it is one for the better,” Basque said. “Now, as a Native Hawaiian, I have prospects to get my doctorate in computer science. I can only thank them as my source of both inspiration and power.”

Basque is even co-captain of the “oldest hacking team in the United States” known as Shellphish — the same team Shoshitaisvhili and Wang competed on as graduate students at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Just like the SEFCOM team helped him succeed, Basque hasn’t kept his skills and passion for cybersecurity all to himself. 

He led the ASU hacking team called pwndevils as the club’s president. In that role, Basque led the team in international competitions and improved their rank from 50th to 10th in the world.

Basque also taught numerous undergraduate students through pwndevils lectures that covered topics usually only available to students in 400-level courses. He also created homework and other challenges for, a cybersecurity education platform.

Long term, Basque wants to continue to improve cybersecurity as a researcher or continue teaching as a professor of computer science, and maybe even win a prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award one day, like Doupé.

“Using the skills I’ve learned from my engineering experience,” he said, “I will help make the world a safer-cyber place.”

Read about other exceptional graduates of the Fulton Schools’ fall 2020 class.

Monique Clement

Lead communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering