Omaha tech nonprofit will honor industry leaders at upcoming awards ceremony

For more than 25 years, the nonprofit AIM Institute has worked to grow a strong and diverse tech community through education, career development and outreach. AIM’s annual celebration and fundraiser, AIM Tech Awards, will take place at Omaha Design Center on Nov. 11. The event, sponsored by Cox Business, will bring the tech community back…

Image courtesy AIM Institute
Image courtesy AIM Institute

For more than 25 years, the nonprofit AIM Institute has worked to grow a strong and diverse tech community through education, career development and outreach. AIM’s annual celebration and fundraiser, AIM Tech Awards, will take place at Omaha Design Center on Nov. 11. The event, sponsored by Cox Business, will bring the tech community back together for a celebration of the changemakers and innovators making a difference in thousands of lives throughout the Silicon Prairie.

“The AIM Tech Awards brings the tech talent community together to celebrate some of its most innovative minds and highlights the impact of AIM’s tech education and career development programs,” said Stephen G. Kaniewski, Valmont Industries’ President and CEO and honorary chair for the event. “It provides an opportunity to celebrate how the local industry is working together to build a thriving tech talent community.”

Additional sponsors include Ziola Wealth/Raymond James, Technology Group Solutions and Valmont.

2021 AIM Tech Awards Recipients

Seven award recipients will be recognized at the event for their outstanding contributions and the momentum they are creating in building a sustainable tech talent community. This year’s honorees are:

Tech Leader of the Year: Kate Brown, Omaha Public Power District (OPPD)

Kate Brown serves OPPD as its Vice President and Chief Information Officer. She contributes to a thriving tech community by promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in her role. Brown leads a diverse technology team, provides young women of color with opportunities and engages with strategic community partners to help OPPD achieve its goals. Brown is a passionate individual whose community involvement does not go unnoticed, as she exemplifies OPPD’s core values of passion to serve, honoring communities and caring for one another.

Tech Educator of the Year: Liaquat Hossain, Ph.D., University of Nebraska, Kearney

Dr. Liaquat Hossain’s curriculum development of the university’s computer science, cybersecurity, IT and data science programs is driving increased enrollment and attracting talented new faculty to the university. His efforts with community partners are improving the availability and quality of K-12 preparation for students, particularly in rural communities.

Tech College Student of the Year: AnhPhu Nguyen, Harvard University

Nguyen is a first-generation college student and freshman computer science and economics major at Harvard University on a full-ride scholarship. A Papillion resident born in Vietnam, he came to the U.S. at age 6 and got involved with AIM through its youth academy programs. He opened his own cell phone repair business at 16, Phu’s Phone Emporium, which now operates in Omaha and Boston.

Tech High School Student of the Year: Rohan Fichadia, Millard North High School

Fichadia, a Millard North High School junior, is passionate about applying engineering and technology to social and community causes. At 14-years-old, he co-founded the nonprofit Magical Motors to create assistive mobility vehicles for children with developmental disabilities. In March 2020, Fichadia raised over $1,900, built a 3D printer and produced over 600 face shields, which he donated to medical and essential workers throughout Nebraska. Fichadia recently spent the summer working at a startup to build affordable robotic prosthetic hands.

Startup of the Year: Event Vesta

Event Vesta co-founders, Andrew Prystai and Billy Martin, are using sophisticated, scalable technology to simplify event promotion for event organizers and venues by automating the process of posting quality events on community calendars and social media.  Event Vesta has secured marquee customers like Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Score, YMCA, Harley Davidson, as well as dozens of bars, venues and nonprofits not just in Omaha, but now all over the country.

Tech Innovators of the Year: Ivy.ai and Creighton University

Ivy.ai collaborated with Creighton University to develop #CampusClear, a free mobile app resource to support COVID-19 self-screening for students, faculty and campus visitors – a 100% free resource for any higher education institution. The app was designed, built, tested and deployed in under four weeks. This service is provided free of charge and is now serving 20% of all colleges and universities in the United States; an estimated 5,300 institutions.     

Enterprise Business of the Year: Physicians Mutual

Physicians Mutual played a key role in developing and participating in AIM Institute’s Callers to Coders program, which allows organizations to cultivate an IT workforce from within, as it’s difficult to find crucial tech talent. Nathan Coberly, Vice President of Enterprise Architecture and Development at Physicians Mutual, transitioned from the military to a career in tech and wanted to grow the local talent pool by developing a strategy for career changers and veterans to pursue IT. Employees enrolled in the five-week, multi-staged Callers to Coders training program are transformed into IT professionals while earning their on-the-clock wages and achieving a more fulfilling career.

“The people and organizations being honored at the Tech Awards are working alongside AIM and its community partners to create a vibrant tech sector,” Kaniewski said. “This work is creating the conditions for an economy that can continue to grow faster than the national average, with career opportunities that help retain the best and brightest talent.” 

Teaching people to fish by getting them hooked on tech

Kaniewski, a self-taught IT professional who now leads a Fortune 1000, leading global provider of engineered products and services for infrastructure and irrigation equipment for agriculture, said the Tech Awards event puts important focus on creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive tech sector. The evening highlights how AIM’s programs open up opportunities that are critical for creating a talent pool in which everyone can swim. 

Kaniewski said to reach the “critical mass” needed for a self-sustaining technology sector, underrepresented people need to be welcomed into it, an important part of Valmont’s Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) criteria and central part of AIM’s mission.

“Tech talent needs are only going to continue to grow – it’s so encompassing for everything we do. We need to constantly examine how we can do a better job of bringing diverse talent into the workforce and keeping them engaged in every step of the process to land a career in technology,” Kaniewski said. 

Kaniewski said AIM Code School’s accelerated and accredited courses, as well as its after-school youth programs, are key to bringing women, people of color and economically disadvantaged populations into the tech sector. 

“To get people into tech who aren’t thinking about it, they need to see people with shared life experiences succeeding in tech careers,” Kaniewski said. 

It also involves providing support on the journey to a career. Valmont, a diversified industrial company and one of the original founding companies behind AIM’s mission, launched a tech mentorship program in partnership with AIM Code School. A group of more than 20 program graduates are working with Valmont IT professionals who volunteer their time to guide graduates and keep them motivated to further their tech education and training for more specialized careers.

AIM’s tailored partner programs address workforce challenges with the business community. They help bypass costs of having to search nationally for talent to fill technology roles. For Kaniewski, it’s a valuable workforce investment with higher returns than conventional recruitment.

“I’d rather invest in a talent pool that will develop and grow over time,” Kaniewski said. “In order to sustain the good companies already here and attract others, it takes an incubator to develop the tech talent workforce that benefits the whole community.” 

Important Connection for the Tech Community

Kaniewski said the AIM Tech Awards and other industry events the nonprofit offers, like the Nov. 1-3 Heartland Developers Conference, are important for technology professionals to connect with one another. 

“For our employees, these events are good networking opportunities that offer a convenient and inexpensive way to learn what others in the industry are doing and create a forum for sharing constantly evolving best practices,” Kaniewski said. “They provide the conduit for industry-focused continuing education that they might not otherwise get.”

Registration for the AIM Tech Awards is free. For more information about the event or to make a donation, please visit www.aimtechawards.org/.

 

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