Ohio Dominican University Discusses Communication, Leadership and the Central Ohio IT community
Christine Kurth - Central Ohio Tech Power Player Honoree
Ohio Dominican University
Stealth Entry Cybersecurity Solutions
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IA: We’re here today with Christine Kurth, who is the Chief Information Officer at Ohio Dominican University, located here in Columbus, Ohio. My name is Israel Arroyo and I'm with Stealth Entry Cybersecurity Solutions, and I will be your guest moderator today. So, let's get started. You've been in the CIO role for about two and a half years. Uh, at what point in your career did you decide that you wanted to be a CIO?
CK: It's a funny story, actually. I'd never wanted to be a CIO, but I've participated in several years in a survey put out by Wayne Brown about emerging IT leaders and asking about your career plans to become a CIO. And I filled it out for years and years, and there was a question that said, do you want to be one? And I said, no, no. But, uh, I was at my last university for 10 years and learned a great deal, and I really like the whole big picture of technology, and how it fits in with the business. And so, at that time, I was, uh, more narrowly focused on one area. And I wanted to expand, I wanted to continue growing and learning more about other areas of the universities, as well as just the whole umbrella of technology as what, in terms of what comes under the CIO umbrella.
IA: Outstanding, outstanding. You know, as a security professional myself, I totally understand where you're coming from with the business aspect of understanding the business processes within an organization in order to understand how to secure those business processes themselves. Outstanding. So, what is the best attribute you bring to your organization?
CK: I think some of my communication skills are really important, especially in a CIO role. Um, it's very important to be able to listen to the end users and to the business users to understand their needs and really get inside of their head in terms of how they're using technology, what are the goals they're trying to achieve, and then really trying to align technological solutions that can help them meet those goals. In their mind, their business isn't necessarily about technology, it's about retail or higher education or so many other areas that the technology should really just be making their lives easier. So, I feel like I have a good ability to be able to listen to, to their needs and, and align that with solutions to help them meet their goals.
IA: Outstanding. Outstanding. So, in your mind, you know, what do aspiring IT leaders, uh, what do you think they need to do to prepare themselves for the next level, or their next career path, if you will?
CK: I know that something that really helped me was a commitment to professional development, especially in the leadership area. There are a lot of skills that IT professionals don't necessarily have based on their IT training or education. And so, I was definitely committed to, um, getting my MBA, which gave me that broad picture across the business, um, as well as several other leadership development types of activities. I know I've participated in some, through the EDUCAUSE group, um, where they really honed those skills that you need to be a leader, not just a technologist.
IA: Outstanding. Outstanding. Absolutely. You know, leadership is a huge, huge attribute, I think that a lot of IT professionals…it's not that they, they lack leadership, it's they they’re not shown how to implement leadership into the IT role or understand how to, how to make them work together.
CK: Absolutely. It's a different set of skills, but skills that can be developed just like any other.
IA: Absolutely. Absolutely. So, in your mindset, what is the best part of working in Central Ohio?
CK: Well, I'm a Columbus girl, born and raised. I've visited lots of other places that I love too, but Columbus is amazing. Uh, it's been really interesting to see the explosive growth in Columbus, as well as the, just the volume of different types of businesses and organizations that, that operate here. Uh, it's, it makes me very proud of the city, and it's not limited to just the big hospitals and universities, but there are so many companies that are involved in the technology world. It's really becoming a big hub of technology. And I love our location. I wish it were by an ocean. Uh, but I love that we're so…it's so easy for us to get to other areas, other very high populated areas, um, from Columbus. Um, and it's really, it does have a, just a nice personal feel to it. Um, you get to really know people throughout the community and there's a collaborative and cooperative spirit here that really keeps me here.
IA: You know, it's interesting you mentioned that, because you're exactly right. I come from the East Coast, right? Military, last duty station was in the DC beltway, and I could not believe the innovative talent that was here, you know? And like you said, you know, there's DOD here, there's military here, retail, I mean, insurance, a lot of universities, which you represent very well. Um, so I totally, uh, you know, I understand exactly what you mean when you say you know, how much love you have for the Midwest. It's unbelievable. I’ve been very fortunate.
CK:Yes, it’s been, it's a, it's a bit of a really well-kept secret here in Columbus and we need to start sharing that with the rest of the country.
IA: Absolutely. I totally agree. So, in your mind, what are the biggest challenges of working in Central Ohio?
CK: Uh, some of the challenges I think are those misperceptions that we’re out in the middle of the country – that's not what Midwest necessarily means. Um, I think because there's such a variety of, of, um, organizations in the area that we maybe need to do a better job of reaching out across those different organizations on partnerships. I think we have a lot of strong partnerships already, but I think that's something we can continue to move towards to realize our full potential.
IA: That I totally agree with – sharing of information, sharing of ideas, innovation. Like you said, this is going to be a hub. Um, it's almost there. I mean, if not already, um, especially being in academia, having these relationships with all the different universities. Uh, you know, there's a lot of them, you know. There's a lot of sharing, a lot, a lot of students looking for opportunity and that's very important.
CK: And honestly if you read a lot of the open positions that are in the market here, there is still a huge demand, especially in technology. So, the universities, uh, definitely need to continue filling that pipeline, communicating to those students about the wonderful opportunities that are here so when we attract students from far away, they'll settle here and continue to add to our community.
IA: Absolutely. Totally agree. And, and just to, one more thing on that – even as a small business owner, I find that as a, as a responsibility almost to provide internships for those students that, where we can actually work with academia and say, “Hey, bring them on over. We'll be more than happy to train them in the cybersecurity programming and etc.” And it's almost a, you know, we help each other, right? We have that communication, like you said.
CK: Absolutely! I think I might have some opportunities for you! We are always looking to have our students have some real-world, practical experience, because it's beneficial to both the companies and to the students, and the university in getting them that true experience.
IA: Absolutely.I totally agree. So, you know, professionally, who do you rely on for advice?
CK: Well, I've been very, very fortunate to work with a number of very strong leaders in the area, uh, very talented folks – some of us who kind of grew up together, professionally. And so I, I have a small group of, um, what I kind of call co-mentors. We sort of mentor each other – a lot of strong female leaders in a broad range of, of areas in higher education, in healthcare, um, in software development for healthcare…so, when we have a challenge we will get, will get together and pick each other's brains for ideas and what, maybe they have tried that's helped them be successful. Um, I also try to look at some of the other industry leading groups – a lot of user groups, a lot of support groups for, um, especially for CIOs. There are groups out there. I know there's, uh, we have an Ohio Independent Colleges group of CIOs who meets a few times a year, and it's really interesting to see the types of challenges that we all have regardless of our size. And so, by putting our, our thoughts and experience together, we're able to help each other develop solutions. Especially cost saving solutions, which is very important in our industry.
IA: Absolutely. Yes. It's interesting because, like you said, you know, a lot of, I don't think a lot of individuals appreciate the issues that come with academia as far as IT is concerned. Right? You want to have the students have what they need available to do their research and perform their academic duties, but you also don't want them going out there and leaving a security hole for example, or something, you know, even the manual process. Right? Or a process. Right? I mean, do you find those kinds of things being shared amongst your CIOs, you know, different technology issues?
CK: Absolutely. We talk about different technology issues, how we're addressing them. Security is a topic that's on our agenda every time. It's so important to protect that data but yet, allow students and faculty and staff the freedom to be able to use the tools available to accomplish their work. And so, that's a very thin line to walk. It's tough in higher education, because, um, we move a little more slowly than industry, and our funding challenges are well known, I'm sure. So, we really have to make use, the best use, of the of the investments we already have, while also introducing some innovative things as well. But making sure that they integrate well with our existing environment, so we're able to provide that security that's necessary.
IA: Outstanding. Outstanding. Well, thank you very much for your time. I greatly appreciate it. This is Israel Arroyo, and I'm here with Ms. Christine Kurth, and to learn more about us, visit comspark.tech. Goodbye, until next time.
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