Raised on a farm in a tiny northwest Kansas town, Annie Hoekman had no intention of going into computer science. But as the economics of agriculture changed, her father decided to shift from farming to computers, something he’d always been interested in, and began taking classes at Kansas Wesleyan University. He earned his degree when Hoekman was a freshman in high school and the family relocated to Salina.
“I was intimidated by Salina at first,” says Hoekman. “Coming to what felt like a big city from my tiny hometown was a lot. But we’d been coming down every weekend to see my dad who was here studying, and Kansas Wesleyan was so welcoming and felt like home to us.”
Her father quickly found work at UPS, and Hoekman traveled with him through western Kansas during college as he provided computer technology planning and support. This first-hand insight and her father’s encouragement led Hoekman to pursue her own degree at KWU in computer science. She moved quickly to a Master’s Degree before working for local technology companies — ISG, Alco and others.
“I received a call one day from Dr. Kraemer, one of my professors at KWU,” Hoekman says, “and he offered me the opportunity to teach a computer networking class. I jumped at the chance and found that I loved teaching.”
With her strong experience with computer technology, information systems and networking, Hoekman continued to teach at KWU and to expand what the university could offer. She presented a plan to strengthen the information systems and networking aspects of the program to the university’s president and the Computer Studies faculty and was given a green light.
“I was excited to get the support of the university to expand our program because there are more jobs in computer networking, information systems and security than there are qualified people — and the starting pay for some of these jobs is good,” Hoekman says. “We have an opportunity here to train the next generation of computer and networking experts, and I think we offer what they need to start great careers.”
Hoekman earned her doctorate in Adult Occupational and Continuing Education from Kansas State University this past spring. She is also going through various professional certificate trainings from Cisco to further enrich the KWU program. “Adding the Cisco instruction is a key piece of the puzzle for our students,” says Hoekman, “and this will put them even further ahead when they start looking for work.”
Kansas Wesleyan currently offers three Bachelor of Science computer degrees: Software Engineering and Information Management, Network Management and Systems Administration, and Forensic Computing.
“We’ve designed our program for doers and we’re very hands-on, which our students love,” Hoekman says. “We have all kinds of technology in our labs, and my students love coming in and figuring things out — whether it’s programming, network questions or 3D printing. We give them full access and lots of one-on-one time.”
As a woman in science at a university where a full two-thirds of the science faculty are women, Hoekman felt very much at home when she began teaching. And, now she works to create a welcoming and supportive environment for her students as well.
“Our science divisions have a wonderful representation of women,” Hoekman says. “We’re women, we hold Ph.D.s, and we have leadership positions. We’re respected by people. This is a big deal.”
Hoekman often speaks to students in local high schools and at community organizations like the Girl Scouts.
“Don’t limit yourselves, I tell them. You can go into the sciences and succeed,” she says. “At this point, my sons see me as a computer person and working with my hands, and that’s normal to them. I think that’s important too.”