Midwestern friendliness meets cybersecurity savvy at SCCC
Anyone who’s gotten locked out of a password-protected website knows how frustrating a single computer can be for the user: Just imagine being responsible for nearly 1,000.
That’s only one part of the job Louie Lemert tackled when he signed on as Chief Information Officer at Seward County Community College. As a member of the executive team, Lemert oversees far more than technological workstations. He is the fiduciary party responsible for the campus’ computer network, compliance with federal regulations, and a host of issues most casual computer users don’t have to worry about.
“Everyone has a different mindset, everyone needs information from Banner (the campus information-management system), people have different levels of comfort with technology,” he said. The first year on the job, Lemert “came in with an industry perspective,” he said, and focused on piecing together the disparate elements that make up a community college IT department.
Lemert’s background provided unique qualifications for the task. Like a researcher who follows a breadcrumb trail of data, Lemert took a winding course back home to Liberal.
After attending public schools in USD 480, he transferred to New Mexico Military Institute for his high school education. He returned to Liberal to attend SCCC, then worked at National Beef, National Carriers and then came back to SCCC where a instructor Bolton introduced him to chemistry. Next was the University of Kansas, where he graduated with a degree in biochemistry with a goal of working in virology.
“Nine months after graduating I had been accepted into a PhD program but had come to realize I hated the industry,” he said. “It was always hard work for me, I could do it, but I wasn’t good at it, in the end I believed it would drive me nuts.”
After realizing pharmacokinetics was not for him, Lemert returned to Liberal, where he worked as a utility auditor, ran a nursery on a pig farm, and even ran a non-profit for awhile. A conversation with his sister, Jenny, turned his attention to the burgeoning IT sector in the late 1990s.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My sister said, ‘go into IT,’” he said. “She was living in Maryland and her husband worked for AOL. After I said, ‘you do know I hate computers, right?’ I decided to take her advice.” His sister, it turned out, was on to something.
“I love writing code,” Lemert says, comparing it to a “massive puzzle, or a painting, where you have to create something new from a mass of incoherent elements.”
Lemert earned a master’s degree in information technology from American Intercontinental University, followed by a master certificate in project management from Villanova. After getting his MIT, he started at a “dot bomb” and when that blew up, went to work at the Pentagon. After a couple of year of bureaucracy, Lemert went to work for a small consultancy later purchased by L-3 Communications, the sixth largest defense firm in the world.
During his nine years at L-3, Lemert got a behind-the-scenes look at everything from satellite design, UAVs, data mining, to creating requirements and training new systems for the National Guard. In the end, family brought him back to Liberal. A visit with family friend and former SCCC finance director Tommy Williams, who discovered Lemert was considering a PhD in education, prompted Lemert to first work at the college.
“At that point, it was not for me,” he said, pointing to the contrasts between private-sector corporate culture and public-sector higher education. Instead, Lemert headed up the IT department at First National Bank of Liberal for five years and then moved to the Liberal Police Department. Through it all, Lemert retained his practices of introspection and self-awareness. For instance, he noted, police work “is really all about writing history. They have to document everything, and you have to be extremely articulate to be a police officer,” he said. After a long pause, he added, “I hate to write.”
Throughout his first full year as CIO at SCCC, Lemert has nonetheless authored significant documents charting the requirements for a robust and secure information network, and strategies to structure greater efficiencies in the department.
As a constantly changing sector, information technology demands a nimble approach and often costly, seemingly constant upgrades. Yet the taxpayer-supported aspect of SCCC’s budgeting requires frugality and restraint. Lemert’s focus thus far has been to diagnose areas of vulnerability, improve communications across campus, and, he concedes, “put out fires, which often siphons our attention from issues that could be disastrous.” Lemert added, “but in IT, we are here to serve. We want to help.”
The cultural value of Midwestern friendliness helps ease the tension.
“People have asked if I felt culture shock, coming back to Liberal from those years doing Department of Defense work,” Lemert said. “That’s not the case. Liberal is kind of a different plane of existence. There’s a perspective you adopt when you come back. It’s like night and day with other parts of the world.”