Capstone Chronicles: The Networking Natural

Dylan Navarro started as a help desk technician for the Leahy Center in his first semester. By his second, he was a system administrator, responsible for maintaining the Leahy Center’s computer systems. Sophomore year, he was promoted to help desk team lead, and junior year, he became system admin team lead. Leadership granted him extra responsibility soon after, promoting him to lead internal network and systems engineer.

“What’s the process of repairing the network like? Is it a long one?”

“Yes, I actually started thinking about this Capstone last year… Yeah, last year in May,” Navarro said.

The Leahy Center has expertly investigated clients’ devices for over a decade. But like a house breaking down over time, those years of hard work weathered away at the Center’s internal network.

When senior year swung around, Navarro’s title was “Capstone Researcher.”

Lucky for us, he was on the case.

“Like traditional forensics, [students] get the device, they catalog it into evidence, they acquire all the data off the device, and then all that information is stored on a separate computer network for security. And then that’s where they do all the investigation. They load up all their tools on that separate internal] network.”

“My Capstone was to work on building the foundation of that second network, because as people had left the Leahy Center throughout the years, that network started breaking down. So I started rebuilding it and then kind of wrote up some policy and procedure to kind of go with that second network.”

When Navarro says “network,” he isn’t talking about Wi-Fi, or software, or the Internet. NIST has six definitions for “network,” but this is the best one to describe what he repaired:

“A system implemented with a collection of interconnected components. Such components may include routers, hubs, cabling, telecommunications controllers, key distribution centers, and technical control devices.”

As you can expect from a cutting-edge cybersecurity business (and one that teaches students, no less), the Center’s internal network is complex.

“For digital forensics, we have dedicated workstations that aren’t connected to the Internet. So that way, all the data is self-contained offline, and completely isolated from the Leahy Center environment too.”

Navarro had to check hardware and software for dozens of these workstations. But his first order of business was checking the foundation.

Do you have a laptop and a PC? On startup, you likely enter the same password on both. This works because of your network’s domain controller, This type of server stores passwords and login IDs. Businesses practically require them for data security. Installing one of these was among Navarro’s top priorities.

He also installed virtual machines to support the domain controller. He could’ve used virtual machine software to reduce the costs of physical hardware; if the workstations aren’t on the Internet, they don’t need the full processing power of the hardware to run. However, Navarro explained that sharing files between the workstations was why he installed the VMs.

Navarro also briefly mentioned the case management system needed repairs.

“It’s an internal application we have that tracks case data. So [I made sure] it was still working.”

He handled the hardware side of things as well—namely, fixing up dozens of workstations.

“[And I had to get] the workstations themselves, right? Because people need to sit at workstations. So getting those set up with all the appropriate software and then connecting everything from 300A at the Leahy Center to the top floor of Lakeside to the data center on the first floor.”

“But keeping [the workstation] completely isolated from everything else is also a challenge because you need it to run. [Wiring is completely separate] from that room all the way down to the data center. Separate switching infrastructure. So it’s kind of like a much smaller Leahy Center environment that doesn’t have any Internet.”

He had a few miscellaneous tasks left. Like installing DNS on the domain controller to improve efficiency, running the case management system on a host, and preparing file shares.

And then Navarro had done it. He used his Capstone opportunity to help the community.

Now with all that said, what he’s currently up to nearly dropped my jaw.

“But I guess what are you doing now? Like post graduation? You got any projects lined up or just… classified?”

“Uh, so right now I’m a network engineer. I work for the US government doing stuff. And I don’t know, my experiences at the Leahy Center definitely really prepared me for what I do now, which is really great.”

(I had no clue he worked for the government before I said “classified.” I think we both internally gasped at that coincidence.)

“It’s really cool seeing my past four years at college, how it impacts my day-to-day life now. Someone’s like, ‘this is, you know, this technology. It’s basically used for this.’ And I go, ‘Oh yeah, like I’ve worked on that for the past four years. Like you’re doing XYZ with it, right?’ And they go, ‘Oh yeah.’ “

“I’m impressing people with the skill set I learned working through the Leahy Center. And it makes me really appreciate the experiences I had at Champlain because it sets me apart from other people.”

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Written by:
Briar Gagne ’26 // Professional Writing

Sources:
What is a Domain Controller, When is it Needed + Set Up

Image on Freepik

What is a virtual machine (VM)?

NIST’s definition of “network”

What is a Virtual Machine?

What is Network Switching?

Does Domain Controller Need to Be DNS Server?

What Is a Host [Types & Other Things You Need To Know]

Leahy Center’s tenth anniversary was… almost three years ago. Wow.

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