Major: Computer and Information Technology
Jacques LaCour grew up with the belief that he could do anything.
After years of working a variety of jobs, LaCour was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition that permanently impaired his vision. The irony is that the change to his eyesight led to the clarity he needed to pursue his passion for a career.
LaCour rediscovered his love for computers, which had always been a part of his life. Having already earned one degree at College of DuPage, he returned and found success in the classroom with help from the College’s Access and Accommodations office and the Computer and Information Technology program faculty. He completed the Cybersecurity and Defense Associate in Applied Science and currently works as a senior analyst at United Airlines.
He also mentored cybersecurity students at Wheaton-Warrenville South High School, his alma mater. For his efforts, he was named American Airforce Association CyberPatriot XIII Mentor of the Year in 2021.
Considering his success, he initially did not see computers as a career path, even though his dad worked with them.
“After my dad retired from a career with computers, he went to work in an Apple store. His license plate says, ‘MAC GEEK,’” he said. “I grew up with every new Apple product—the Apple IIe, the iMac G3 in the original Bondi blue. But it didn’t occur to me that I would work in computers. Instead, my earlier passions in life took hold.”
When LaCour originally attended COD, he earned an Associate in Applied Science in Automotive Service Technology and completed several business classes. He then transferred and attended multiple colleges.
“For various reasons I moved around. I saw a lot of schools and loved all of them, and I had fantastic teachers along the way. I have no regrets.”
Faculty members were always there and a big part of my journey, while people everywhere at the College—including other students—were always willing to lend a hand.
He worked for an attorney’s office and a logistics company, always drawn to IT-related projects. In December 2016, LaCour and his wife were expecting their first child when he noticed something was wrong with his eyesight.
“Computer screens became harder and harder to read,” he said. “I always had 20/20 vision, so I knew something was off. I went to the optometrist and got glasses, but that didn’t work.”
Doctors conducted more tests but could not diagnose what was happening. One of LaCour’s nurses had a family member who went to Northwestern Medicine’s eye clinic in downtown Chicago, so LaCour checked into it and eventually was seen by the head of ophthalmology. At one point after an MRI, LaCour was sent to the ER and spent six days in the hospital. But no diagnosis could be found.
Finally, a test that could only be processed at one lab in the entire country revealed that LaCour had one of three mutations of a rare genetic condition that causes the optic nerve to die from the inside out. After three to six months, the condition stabilizes but the damage is irreversible.
“I had stopped driving in March and stopped working in April when it was at its worst,” he said. “I remember one day being with someone who was like a second mom to me, and I had a horrible moment because I was terrified I would never see my son's face. In June 2017, when the doctor called with the diagnosis, he told me that there was no treatment and nothing more to do, but that there would be no more changes to my vision. I remember thinking, ‘I’m good now.’ I knew what was wrong and I knew where I could go.”
That December he began having fun using the Raspberry Pi Zero. When he met with the Illinois Department of Rehabilitation for help finding work, LaCour was told that if he returned to school, he should pursue something he loved.
“I knew at that moment that it was going to be computers in some form,” he said. “I had family involved in cybersecurity, and they always had cool stories. In the current job market, there is a huge amount of work for cybersecurity and networking people. Professor Tony Chen was the first person I met with at COD, and I found myself returning there. I was in a very unique situation in that I couldn’t drive, so my brother would pick me up in the morning and drop me off, and I would usually spend the whole day at COD, even if I only had one class.”
Both Access and Accommodations and the CIT faculty did everything they could to help LaCour succeed, from discussing needs with him at the beginning of each semester to providing large monitors in the classrooms. Because he needs an extreme magnifier to read books, LaCour instead received digital materials.
“It worked out phenomenally,” he said. “Everyone was always asking, ‘Can we do more?’”
LaCour earned his second degree and transferred to Dakota State University for a master’s in cyber defense. However, he continued his association with COD and worked as a tutor and a lab aid for the CIT program, managing all of the equipment and running open labs, even during COVID.
When Wheaton-Warrenville South High School wanted to start a cybersecurity club, Chen suggested that LaCour work with them.
“I knew the building and the teachers, and it was another opportunity for me,” he said. “The club started with eight or 10 students and is now up to 40, and I still help when I have time available. I owe being named mentor of the year to all the kids and the faculty.”
LaCour knows he needs a sense of humor regarding his vision as well as a desire to search for solutions.
“I’m half-terrified of when my son wants to learn how to play baseball, but I won’t say no,” he said. “My advice for people facing an uncertain future due to a health issue is acceptance of the situation and a willingness to figure out how to get where you want to go. There’s always a way forward and it might not be what you expect. Once I realized what was available, I actually had more requests to help me than I could sometimes handle.
“College of DuPage was instantly supportive. Faculty members were always there and a big part of my journey, while people everywhere at the College—including other students—were always willing to lend a hand. Later when I was brought on as a lab aide and asked to mentor students, I knew how much I wanted to help others, thanks to COD.”