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Ron Horn – Guilford Technical Community College

Real tech makes for real learning

Ron Horn has gone back to school, though it’s not a new or unusual event for someone whose resume shows a lifetime of continuing education.

Only this time, Horn is leading as well as learning as the chief information officer at Guilford Technical Community College in north-central North Carolina. Intent on transforming learning at the five-campus college system, he’s partnering with tech industry leaders to provide innovative and interactive learning throughout the curriculum.

Ron Horn – Guilford Technical Community College

Ron Horn | Chief Information Officer | Guilford Technical Community College

Since arriving at Guilford Tech in November 2018, Horn has been drawing the roadmap for change at the school. While the journey has begun, he knows he is not the only driver.

“Culture is everything,” Horn says. “It is wise for an IT leader to go into an organization with an open mind. You need to meet with leaders of the organization and have discussions about what has worked, what are the pain points, what is your vision and how do you feel about IT?”

Meeting the marketplace

Guilford Tech fits well within the model of a community college, offering job training for nontraditional learners as well as a cost-effective entry point to higher education for young students. The school offers courses from accounting to welding, not to mention phlebotomy (drawing blood) and plumbing. Yet, as he evaluated how and what students learn, Horn saw a need to add technology and security certification programs that could have students ready for the workplace in weeks or months instead of years.

To achieve this, he is collaborating with high-tech vendors such as Amazon Web Services, Cisco and Oracle about establishing certification programs for basic skills in their platforms and programs. It will take no longer than 16 weeks to earn initial certifications; and the programs tie into lengthier ones to build more skills, Horn says.

Ron Horn – Guilford Technical Community College

The immediate result is students will land better jobs at tech-savvy companies in Greensboro and High Point, as well as the wider Piedmont Triad region—jobs that can give students the means to continue their education.

“Unfortunately, we have students facing economic struggles. Sometimes they are trying to decide between buying books and paying bills,” Horn says.

As the collaborations with tech companies are developing, Horn has approached Triad-area companies to assess their IT needs and how Guilford Tech can help solve them. The process likely requires the companies to establish internship and mentoring programs, and so far, Oracle and Amazon are onboard, he says.

Hand-held learning

While building the fast track to better employment, Horn is also bringing more innovative tech to two-year programs, notably in Guilford’s aviation and automotive curriculums. Here, he’s partnered with Apple and Microsoft to provide students with mobile devices and software they can use on the shop floor.

Whether a laptop or smaller handheld device the diagrams and specs for wiring, cockpit instrument layouts or the depths of a transmission or fuel system can be right at hand, Horn notes. Students can create their own content, too, going through diagnostic processes for auto repairs and capturing their work on video so it can be shared with others.

As part of the initiative, Horn also works with vendors to obtain free and low-cost devices.

New courses and devices boost student learning opportunities, but only if Guilford Tech’s IT infrastructure can handle the load. That has required upgrading the fiber cable network and bandwidth throughout the campus. The school is also installing concentrated access points for Wi-Fi, so a student walking between buildings stays connected, Horn says.

Ron Horn – Guilford Technical Community College

The cumulative effect is transformative, but bells and whistles alone are not what orchestrate Horn’s work.

“The shiny new thing in the corner is always cool to everyone,” he says, “but do not lose focus on who you are serving and the needs they have. We are trying to improve their lives.”

Purpose matters

Horn has been working to improve lives with high tech for years; he worked in the health care field for more than a decade at Catholic Health Initiatives, Trillium Health Resources, and most recently, WellStar Health System.

Compared to those settings, students are not generally facing a health crisis he needs to address, but at the same time he can get closer to students in his day-to-day than he could patients.

“I don’t go into anything unless I feel like I serve a purpose, and that’s what drives me,” Horn says. “What I focus on is the outcomes; I try to make a difference.”

Outcomes matter off campus, too, he says, as Horn is taking part in the North Carolina Blockchain Initiative task force. Working with North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, the task force studies how blockchain technology, smart contracts, virtual assets and digital tokens might be used in state government and the public sector. Blockchain technology, created to protect bitcoin users, allows people to share access of data and records while preventing the recipient from copying any of what is shared.

Ron Horn – Guilford Technical Community College

The task force is compiling use cases where the technology has been used or can be practically applied. Horn says blockchains could be of use to students, giving them possession of their academic records and a quick way to share them with interested parties. The technology could also be applied to pharmaceuticals as a way to track medications.

Blockchain is a long way from Horn’s high-tech roots—he began his career by dismantling and rebuilding computers in the 1980s—but the way it will help people fits in with what he has tried to achieve while keeping people, not high-tech, as his primary focus.

“I felt there was a need and I have a passion for the technology. I’m willing to step outside the traditional CIO role and do what is needed to make a difference in the students’ lives,” Horn says.

Published on: January 23, 2020

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