Careers: Interviews
Ken Poorman: 2005 NPA International "Professional Excellence and Innovation Award in Education" Recipient; University of Phoenix Chair for IS & IT, San Diego Campus

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Ken Poorman, recipient of the 2005 NPA International Professional Excellence and Innovation Award – Education, given out at the world’s largest networking industry conference, Networld+Interop Las Vegas. The Award is sponsored by the Network Professional Association with cooperation and support including from Networld+Interop, Microsoft, Que/SAMS (Pearson Technology Publishing), Network Computing Magazine, Network World Magazine, Novell Canada, …

Mr. Poorman grew up in Western Pennsylvania and attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania, completing his B.S. in Education with a concentration in Mathematics and Computer Science.

Poorman joined the U.S. Navy where he served as an engineer on various ships and as a Material Professional (IS in service terminology). He completed a MSCIS at Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey Ca. while teaching computer science courses there. Later, after a tour as Commanding Officer of a ship in San Diego, Ken was fortunate to be the Project Manager for several large military projects. These included the World Wide Military Command and Control System (WWMCCS), Tactical Flag Command Center (TFCC), and the Automatic Carrier Landing System (ACLS). Following Naval service, he worked in systems design creating information systems for various corporations. He also worked on developing operating systems and techniques which are in use today. Ken became a faculty member of the University of Phoenix, San Diego Campus in 1995. His full time position since March of 2000 is as Campus College Chair for Information Science and Technology. He has been teaching on-ground classes for more than ten years primarily in the College of Information Science & Technology (IS&T). 

Discussion:

Q: Ken: Congratulations on your fine achievement as the recipient of one of the networking industry’s highest international awards, the 2005 NPA Professional Excellence and Innovation in Education Award. How does it feel to receive this honour? What are the comments and thoughts from your associates and family?

A:  I am quite proud to be selected for this award. There are so many outstanding schools and programs that contribute to the field of technology so to be chosen by the NPA for this award is a fantastic experience. In the University of Phoenix alone there are more than a 1000 personnel involved in facilitating and teaching within the College of Information Science and Technology. My fellow College Chairs in San Diego also took pride in this award because we work as a team to ensure the quality in the classroom in all of the seven colleges. 

Q: Which areas of your work are you most proud of and for what reasons?

A:  I take the most pride in the quality of the body of knowledge presented in the classroom. It is through the efforts of outstanding faculty who remain current in various fields of IT that facilitate up-to-date instruction and curriculum in the classroom. Faculty spend numerous hours writing and maintaining class guidelines and materials that are top notch for classroom use. With the vast majority being associate faculty, it is a pleasure to work with people who make it happen in the technical environment and then come to our classrooms and teach and explain how the real world works outside the ivy covered halls.

Q: How do you plan to make a difference in your workplace and community, and in academia, industry, and government? 

A:  I feel that by orchestrating and assisting in the continual upgrade and change of the material presented to the student, I can make the biggest difference in the workplace whether the workplace is business, academia, or government. Our future is determined by our students. In the case of the University of Phoenix our students may be a little more mature and experienced than the typical student. Many will be contributing immediately as they are already in the workforce and striving to improve themselves and their working environment.

Q: Describe your responsibilities: day-to-day, tactically, and strategically. What ten lessons can you share with others?

A: My responsibilities are actually very simply described. My job is to maintain and improve quality in the classroom. Whatever it takes to accomplish that goal is my responsibility. It may mean faculty hiring, training, or dismissal or curriculum change. It means I must ensure the proper and current materials are covered in the duration of the course to instill the best, most current, and most extensive learning environment possible. 

My best ten lessons learned would probably include:

  • Be honest
  • Remain current in your field
  • Know the subject matter
  • When the answer is unknown, admit it, and find the answer
  • Take advantage of students experience and inputs. Many of the students work in the field and can share learning opportunities.
  • Trust in your experience. As associate faculty you were hired because of your experience and expertise.
  • Use any and all information and resources available.
  • Never take yourself too seriously.
  • Make sure you challenge the students. Everyone can and should learn no matter the experience level upon entering the class.
  • Respect time -- the student has very little time to spare and needs to be efficient in class. Be on time and provide the full duration of the class with training or learning experiences.

Q: Can you bring us up-to-date on the solutions you are implementing at the University of Phoenix (UoP)? What are the five biggest challenges and how will they be resolved? How does this extend into education organizations in general? What are the applications in industry and business?

A:  We are presenting using multiple modalities of instruction at the University of Phoenix and we try to focus the type of modality to the best fit of the student in regards to his or her learning desires, abilities, and time.

The University of Phoenix has online classes which can be done by students on an ongoing basis with the course meeting completely online. Online suits the student who is too distant or has such a schedule that can never accommodate a set time for a classroom environment. We also have the traditional on-ground class that provides a face to face meeting between the student and a faculty member.

We have a newer modality that is a combination of the previous two, called Flexnet. In Flexnet the student meets the faculty member in an on-ground classroom to start the course, does most of the course online, and then completes the course in the classroom on the last night of class. This provides the opportunity for the student that wants a face-to-face meeting with faculty, but just doesn’t have a flexible schedule that allows a weekly meeting in the classroom. One of the challenges we face with diverse modalities is ensuring quality of instruction is maintained in the classroom whether on-ground, online or Flexnet.

Another concept institutionalized with the University of Phoenix is the concept of teamwork. Every course requires classmates to form Learning Teams of three to six members, who will work together on various team projects. We have seen that this technique has helped the student to develop teamwork abilities and techniques that serve the student well in the working environment. I often hear students and alumni tell me how much this teamwork training has helped them in the work environment. Many contemporaries in the business world have commented that the University of Phoenix student seems to have a much better understanding of working in the team environment of today’s society.

Q: What three case studies can you share from your days with the Military which are still useful today in providing “best practices”?

A:  To me, without a doubt, the most important aspect of work in the military that should be applied to best practices is “attention to detail”. No matter whether we are looking at the business environment, government related issues, or academia; if the details are not correct the conclusion will never be complete and accurate. This carries into the classroom as a wrong information byte could lead a student down the wrong path in the future. In the business world a misspoken fact could cause business failure, and in government work it could waste millions of tax dollars.

There seemed to be a tendency in my military work to underestimate the individuals’ abilities, and overestimate available assets. This has caused problems, or at least reduced the final culmination of a project. So much more could have been done by correctly evaluating the abilities of personnel and the potential of the involved parties. Many times this unused potential counteracted the overestimation of available assets. We need to be very judicious in determining the availability of both personnel abilities and assets available.

Most of my projects in the military tied to communications. I have discovered over time that communications is the key to everything in government, business, and academia. If you cannot communicate, you cannot succeed. Many times an IT student will ask why the faculty is so critical of writing skills, because after all, they are going to be a “techie”. That is precisely why the writing ability is so important. The IT person will very likely be the bridge between the business or operational side of an organization and the technical or analytical side of the organization. The IT person must be able to communicate in both worlds to succeed in their career.

Q: What are your specific short, medium, and long-term objectives for UoP?

A:  My objectives (though not necessarily those of the University), are quite simple. In short term, I want to see that the ongoing classes are staffed and maintained by the best faculty available. Medium objectives include the continual review of new faculty to ensure the flow of current and well qualified personnel are in position to continue quality in the classroom. My long-term objectives include the addition of new degrees or new coursework that continues to reflect the timeframe during which the material will be presented. We are now in a wireless environment; therefore we should be teaching and using the technology that is in the world. In the future we need to stay with the leading edge of technology both in content and in use.

Q: Illustrate by using a case study approach, what will education look like in 2007, 2010, 2015?

A:  Looking at what a student will see in the class in the future, I think you will see many different aspects in education. In 2007, the student will see a time of choice and multiple modality opportunities. A student will be able to use whatever modality will best fit the ability and time available for the student. In 2010, the student will still have the choice of modality but will be using all electronic sourcing of materials and resources.  We are using electronic texts, libraries and searches now, but I believe within 5 years we will see education entirely electronic in resources. By 2015, I believe it is possible we might be looking at the opportunity of self paced learning to a much larger scale than is envisioned now. There may no longer be a faculty member or teacher in direct contact with the student. The faculty member or teacher will be creating the documentation that the student will be using, while the student will determine the pace of the education.

Q: What have been your top five challenges since your graduation from university? Why are they included on your list and how did you resolve them?

A: 1) Determining what I wanted to do with my life. 
I entered the military after graduation since that was about my only choice in the day of the draft. I quickly discovered that I liked the military regimen and it fit what I was looking to do at the time. As retirement from the military approached, I knew I enjoyed working with electronics and systems design. I decided to see what I could do in that area. I also knew from doing some college teaching in the military, that I liked being a teacher. I applied for an associate faculty position and it worked for me at the University of Phoenix.

2)  Becoming a Chief Engineer of a Naval ship. 
Although, trained in computer systems, electronics, and electricity, I had very little education in the world of steam plant engineering. This was probably the hardest challenge for me technically. I decided the best approach was to do my best in the military schools provided for engineering officers. After completing the schools, I arrived in the ship and decided that the best learning technique for me was hands on education. I went through every watch station (job) in engineering to see if I could do the job. I felt that using the idea for the engineer job could be sum of the parts  plus more. I got the sum of the parts by doing the jobs and the additional training came with my ears and eyes. I listened to everything the professionals said and read every manual I could get my hands on. This helped me to learn communications both in listening and speaking are vital to success.

3)  Learning to balance life. 
It is very easy to become absorbed in the technical details surrounding a position and to lose sight of what is involved in being a total individual. For years, I was blindly doing the workaholic thing without realizing that I was missing life and that I was not a complete person, or manager, for that matter. I did not understand the people side of management for a long time. One day I realized I learned by listening and reading and doing. What I discovered was that I learned as much by listening as any other form of input. I discovered I had to learn where the person was coming from so to speak. That is when I discovered that people need to be involved in many aspects of life to include family, social, and every other realm of human involvement. I started to discover that to manage, and then to teach required I know people. I learned that people are more than their job and need to be well rounded to best adjust and cope with the stress of the work environment. I found that social life, family life and cultural activities also contribute to the overall manager and allow for a better grasp and understanding of how to manage. I also discovered life can be fun.

4)  Training Office for the Naval Third Fleet
It was my job to ensure that all Naval and Marine Forces deploying in the Pacific Theater were prepared to deal and handle whatever they may be encounter during the deployment. The traditional battlefield and ocean skirmishes could no longer be the sole focus of training. The fighting men and women deploying needed to be capable of dealing with actions like the Gulf War, terrorism, natural disasters, and relief operations for famine, etc. It was a definite challenge and interesting to set up training involving a scenario to free hostages from a bank take over or some other type of activity not familiar to the regular training provided in the military. Developing and doing this training for the more than 60,000 Naval and Marine personnel deploying during my tenure as training officer was a definite challenge as well as a learning opportunity.

5)  Campus College Chair for the San Diego Campus  
It was a true challenge and learning experience. The College Chairs for the seven colleges began together, and there were no previous full time positions as Campus College Chair. The Director of Academic Affairs told each of the College Chairs “your job is to maintain quality in the classroom, make it happen.” Without a pattern to follow we quickly developed a camaraderie and came up with plans and actions of how to best do this job. It has been an ongoing and growing process, but seems to have been very successful for the San Diego Campus.

Q: Provide a history of your career milestones and important lessons you learned.

A:  I graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania having worked my way through college in a local steel mill. This was the start for learning the value of an education which is a lesson I continue to learn on a daily basis.

I enlisted in the Navy and then Commissioned an Ensign four years after enlisting. This provided a better insight as to the thinking of the junior enlisted man in the service and started me down the path to learn how to lead and manage.

Assigned to work on the design and implementation of the World Wide Military Command and Control System (WWMCCS). I was assigned to train the military personnel in the hardware construction, operating system, and assembly language used in the WWMCCS system. This was the foundation and basis for both my IT career and my educational career.

Assigned to assist in the Program Management of the Automated Carrier Landing System (ACLS), I provided some good experience in the program management arena.

I was appointed Project Manager for the Tactical Flag Command Center (TFCC). This system was developed and used in all Fleets of the Navy to provide Command input to Operational Forces. This was my first role in leading a project and getting me started in the management role.

I assumed duties of Commanding Officer of Naval Frigate. It provided the first big opportunity for a position of responsibility and leadership.

I worked as a Consultant in the IT field gaining valuable experience in the intricacies of business operations in the IT world of retail business.

Selected as Campus College Chair for the College of IS&T in San Diego has provided me the opportunity to blend the IT technical world with the for-profit business world of academia.

Q: Ken, can you comment of what it is to be an IT Professional?

A:  As an IT professional, I feel it is my responsibility to stay current in the field as much as possible. I need to maintain a knowledge base of what is going on in IT in order to provide adequate direction and guidance in the classroom environment. To be an IT Professional means the need to do continual research to maintain currency and the determination to ensure IT systems are designed with efficiency, currency, security, and correctness while ensuring that they meet the prime of objective of providing what the user needs. An IT Professional will also make every attempt to provide an understanding to the users of the system on why it works, and how it works, while instilling in the user the confidence to use the system.

Q: Which has proved to be the most valuable: undergraduate studies, graduate studies, work experience, teaching, leading; and why? Rank them…

A:  The most valuable to me is work experience. Work experience shows how something will work in the real world and not just how the design says it should work. Leading is second because good leadership requires continual training and a natural ability to listen. I believe every successful leader listens appropriately. When leading you must know where you are going and why or you will not succeed. From my perspective, teaching is simply a subset of leading so no need to list it anywhere but here. Graduate studies were my next most valuable experience, because they provided some information and direction in the area I wanted to develop for my career. Undergraduate studies were of value because they started me on the path of desiring more knowledge and a continual desire for more additional knowledge and information.

Q: Choose five topics of your choosing and providing commentary.

A: 1) Topic 1:  Teamwork: 
I think one of the essential ingredients to a successful enterprise, be it military, government, business or academia is the ability of the work force to function as a team and work for the goals and objectives of the organization. The Campus College Chairs at the San Diego Campus are an excellent example of a group of personnel working together and achieving more because of their effort than could ever be achieved as seven individuals.

2) Topic 2:  IT management: 
There is no greater skill than the ability to communicate between the business side of the house and the technical side of the business. Many times a company’s biggest problem is trying to establish what it is that the users, or business side needs, and then explaining it to the technical side in order for proper development of the required solution. One of my objectives is to work on the communications capability of our IT graduates to ensure that they can provide this communications bridge between the business personnel and the technical personnel.

3) Topic 3:  Internet Security:
Is a major problem and cannot be maintained.  While there is no 100% guarantee that your data and information will be safe on the Internet with proper procedures and safeguards, there is reasonable certainty that your information will not be compromised. With the use of hardware and software firewalls, encryption, login requirements, passwords, proper use of DMZ zones there can be some sense of security. Although there have been some cases of information security violations recently, in most cases the problem can be traced to improper procedures or a failure to use the appropriate security devices in the proper manner. Again, attention to detail cannot be ignored in the area of security.

4) Topic 4:  Myth: There is no point in working towards a career in the IT industry as most of the jobs are moving overseas or offshore.
While the IT arena has become a Global environment there is still a critical need for good educated IT personnel in the United States. IT Management is still a need that surfaces every graduation and if one of the most referenced areas when companies contact me looking for employees.

5) Topic 5:  Hackers: It is hard to combat hackers.
While this statement may be true, many companies have discovered the solution to stopping or reducing the risk of hackers may be use of hackers. More and more in today’s IT world we see companies that have discovered that the best way to combat a hacker is to think like a hacker. The best way to do this is to hire a hacker. The hacker can work for you in determining your weaknesses to hackers and can also show you and help you to develop techniques that will reduce the risk of hackers in your company’s system.

Q: If you were doing this interview, what three questions would you ask and then what would be your answers?

A: Q1)    With the opportunity to make much more money in the IT business world why choose the educational environment of IT? A1)  I get asked this question a lot. For me, I enjoy the classroom environment, conducting a class, and facilitating the learning of people in the area of IT. There is a good deal of satisfaction in seeing someone’s face as they comprehend a specific area of IT that was not understood or clear before the class. To me that look of comprehension is worth as much as the money earned in the business world. I confess it also helps that I did the money part of the career prior to stepping into education.

Q2)  Why the University of Phoenix?
A2)  When I started with the University of Phoenix I was impressed by the typical student being a more mature individual that brought real world experience into the classroom along with a strong desire to achieve a better education. The students were there because they wanted to learn, wanted to get involved in the classroom, and share experiences with their peers. Facilitative learning appealed much more to me than standard lecture classes.

Q3)  Do you feel there is a need for some kind of standardization in the qualities expected of someone that advertises themselves as a network specialist?
A3)  Very definitely, there should be some kind of standard in the area of networking. We are no longer looking at networking as something that everyone understands and everyone working in the field of networking has a solid basis. I believe we have reached the point in a company’s business life that the network integrity and operability is just as vital as any other area of the business including financials. For years we have required personnel to be a Certified Public Accountant for some positions. Why not have the same kind of requirements for a Network Administrator. Some mix of education and experience including a requirement for currency might be established to achieve a Network Certification. An exam could be included in the qualification and a company would then know an individual applying for a Network Administrator position would have a certain level of knowledge and understanding. 

Q: Ken, thank you for taking the time to do this interview and sharing your deeply considered insights with our audience

A:  You’re welcome.

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