Cybersecurity professional helps Bellevue’s world-class program excel
Ron Woerner, Associate Professor of Information Systems at Bellevue University, initially became interested in computers for the simple fact that he enjoyed playing computer games. To do so, though, he’d often have to program them himself, which fueled his fire.
Woerner’s growing passion led him to Michigan State University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in computer science. He then worked for five years as a United States Air Force intelligence officer – a role that introduced him to the field of cybersecurity.
“Working with the military, you learn about data protection and data classification,” he said. “Taking from my computer and intelligence background and understanding different types of threats and how they can exploit vulnerabilities led me into the early days of information security.”
Woerner decided to further pursue this line of work by attending Syracuse University for its Master of Information Systems Management program.
After he graduated and left the military, Woerner worked as a systems administrator for a few different companies. This was before the time that businesses had dedicated information security positions, but he would often fill that invisible role anyway because he wanted to ensure his systems were locked down and protected.
As he developed this new knowledge base, Woerner began writing about how companies could protect their own computer systems and develop information security programs – a precursor to his days as an expert voice in cybersecurity.
Woerner has created cybersecurity programs for multiple Fortune 200 companies, including Mutual of Omaha and ConAgra Foods, which is where he met Mary Dobransky, the dean of Bellevue’s College of Science and Technology. She was looking for a subject matter expert to develop the university’s cybersecurity studies program and asked Woerner to join the University.
Woerner helped to establish the Bellevue University program in 2011 and today, working under Program Director Doug Rausch, he continues to teach cybersecurity students. While he was already a skilled presenter – he’s been featured at events like TEDx and the International Information System Security Certification Consortium – Woerner found teaching to be a learning experience.
What Woerner has found to love most about teaching is when he sees his students have lightbulb moments after he’s helped them connect the dots about a concept or specific application.
“Hearing those types of success stories from students is definitely what makes it worth it – knowing I have had a positive impact on their life,” he said.
In addition to his teaching duties, Woerner owns Cyber-AAA, helping organizations solve their cybersecurity problems. He also loves traveling and sharing his knowledge with others.
Woerner spent this past September traveling through Europe, where he spoke at three different cybersecurity conferences and visited a few universities to study how they teach cybersecurity.
“What I learned is that we’re all seeing similar types of issues, no matter what country you’re in,” he said.
According to Woerner, right now is an especially ripe time to get into the field of cybersecurity because there are tens of thousands of jobs open and a huge need across the United States and worldwide for application developers, systems and network administrators, cybersecurity professionals and more.
And there’s perhaps no better place to kick start a career in the field than at Bellevue University. Its Center for Cybersecurity Education offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in cybersecurity and the program is designated by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education. The center’s world-class professors are a huge asset, too.
“All of our instructors have real-life experience in the field, and we’re able to really bring that experience into the classroom,” Woerner said.
Ultimately, Woerner encourages students interested in cybersecurity to network and understand that it’s more than just a technical career.
“It really is about knowing people and developing good processes,” he said. “You never know where in the world you can go and who you may meet.”