Brilliant People of Omaha: Ron Woerner, Director of Cybersecurity Studies, Bellevue University
Ron Woerner is the Director of Cybersecurity Studies at Bellevue University. Ron develops curriculum, coordinates faculty and helps teach over 300 students that are in the program.
Ron is also passionate about assisting in the organization of local tech conferences. He works with programs such as Hack for Kids, a nation-wide effort that brings youth to tech conferences.
This week we sat down with Ron to talk about his career, his passions and the challenges of his current position.
AIM: Can you tell me a little more about Hack for Kids?
RW: We take regularly established conferences that are normally for adults, but we have a track for kids where they can learn how technology works. We take computers and cellphones apart and they learn the hardware aspects of technology. We also show them how computer networking works. We even use Minecraft as an educational tool. The idea that I’m promoting is that camps, conferences, clubs and competitions where kids are able to get their hands on the technology, gives them a safe playground to experiment.
AIM: How do you see these programs influencing the future of Omaha’s youth?
RW: They help show how active of a tech community Omaha has. We’re not just fly-over country. We are part of the Silicon Prairie. The idea is to showcase how Omaha has always been on the backbone of the internet.
For example, Google built their data center in Council Bluffs for a reason, there is a lot of great talent here. The idea is to continue to build talent who want to stay and work in Nebraska, and to show kids that there is a career path here in their own backyard.
AIM: What is your main mission as an educator?
RW: I connect people. I connect people with information, with knowledge. I connect people with other people and job opportunities. I connect people with ideas and thoughts to help them better themselves. A tagline I like to use is, “I’m passionate about building people.” I help people become better than they are today.
AIM: How would you attempt at solving the issue of diversity in the Information Technology field?
RW: Showing them all of the opportunities that are available. For minorities and young ladies, I let them know that if they have the passion and the interest, they can pretty much write their own ticket. There are a lot of scholarship and career opportunities out there. They just need to be bold enough to take those steps. I try to give them that courage, let them know that they can use their skills. Actually, being bilingual is a huge strength in IT because you’re able to think in multiple dimensions already.
AIM: What is your first memory of interacting with technology?
RW: My middle school brought in a TRS 80 computer, model three, and you had to write your own programs, so I learned programming right from there. I’d go to school early just to mess around with it, which is where I learned the importance of playing and experimentation.
AIM: What’s the biggest misunderstanding about your job?
RW: What I’ve found with academics, typically with professors, is that we are both most respected and least respected at the same time. Everyone loves their professors. They always have their favorite professor who really helped them build and grow; but as far as the outside world, I’ve encountered many people who think, “Well, you’re just a professor, you don’t really know how to do stuff.”
Seriously, I’ve had someone say that to me, completely ignoring my 20+ years of corporate experience. I learn from my students based on what they’re experiencing every day in the corporate world. It is somewhat of a frustrating point to try to show folks that I don’t just teach, but I do what I’m teaching, as well.
AIM: What is the most valuable career advice you’ve given to a student?
RW: You have to be passionate and interested in what you are doing. What I’ll often tell the students is that homework begins after you graduate. I’m always reading and staying up to date on news. For example, I stay active on Twitter because that’s where I find out what’s happening in the world. Staying up to date broadens your mind and keeps you thinking about other ways to solve problems. There’s always going to be more ways to solve problems.
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Brilliant People of Omaha: A series of discovery.
Welcome to Brilliant People of Omaha. In this series we will sit down with local brilliant individuals who love their jobs, have excellent career advice and are ready to share their story about how they came into their current position.
We will talk to a variety of people in this series including: developers, designers, managers, CEOs, interns, etc. Everyone has a story, and we are here to uncover it and see what we can learn from the brilliant people around us.
Do you have someone you’d like to nominate as a brilliant person of Omaha? Drop Melanie Lucks a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you.