Professor leading IT center collaboration brings lifetime of experience as an innovator
Campus News | Monday, November 6, 2023
Columbus State’s recent federal grant award establishing a national IT innovation center is the latest leadership success story for Information Systems Technology assistant professor Larry McWherter.
A faculty instructor with the college since 2016, McWherter is leveraging his deep experience as an education innovator administering National Science Foundation funding to now serve as principal investigator of the National Information Technology Innovation Center. NITIC is a virtual collaborative center of IT education innovation led by Columbus State and funded by a $7.5 million National Science Foundation grant as part of its Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program.
McWherter’s career path leading to his emergence as a higher education expert in cybersecurity has crisscrossed the nation – and the world. Along the way, he developed top cybersecurity skills, knowledge, and the ability to be an effective communicator in a college classroom.
Born in Texas, McWherter is the third generation of his family to enter career service in the U.S. military. Prior to his professional life, his family settled in Ohio when his father took a position as an assistant professor of military science at The Ohio State University in the early 1970s.
While working on a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication at Ohio State, McWherter was a Reserve Officers Training Program member. Upon graduating, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.
“I knew I wanted to fly helicopters,” McWherter said. He trained initially in combat air rescue, stationed in Alabama, New Mexico, Missouri, Colorado, California and Germany. A few years later, after being medically disqualified for flight duty, he cross-trained to learn new skills and became an intelligence officer.
That training was vital when Iraq invaded Kuwait in the early 1990s, leading to the Persian Gulf War and Operation Desert Storm. McWherter was stationed nearby in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, providing intelligence to frontline troops.
Following the war, McWherter transitioned from the Air Force full-time and became a reservist while attending what is now Multnomah University, eventually earning a Master of Arts degree in Pastoral Studies. “‘Church planting’ with the Association of Vineyard Churches and my wife was the plan,” he said. He started a church in Delaware, but the opportunity to serve as a chief of intelligence in the newly formed Joint Forces Headquarters with the Ohio Air National Guard kept his career on a military path.
In 2013, McWherter retired from the Guard as a colonel and began a role as an infrastructure security planner and then as the senior intelligence analyst with Ohio Homeland Security. His assignments included studying ports along Lake Erie and other rivers for security risks, and was soon recruited to Columbus State based on his cybersecurity expertise.
“The early years of my career were essentially on-the-job training for cybersecurity,” McWherter said. “We were at the very forefront of technology, and as intelligence officers, we had to brief military decision makers.”
In 2022, McWherter received the HI-TEC National Educator of the Year award. The award represents HI-TEC’s commitment to recognizing community college faculty who make significant contributions to the education and training of today’s technology workforce.
“It kind of scared me because I haven’t been teaching that long,” McWherter said. “It’s humbling for me because I’ve worked with so many outstanding teachers. It’s most gratifying when I see my students get excited about cybersecurity and inspired to make a difference.” He says his years of briefing military leaders and providing presentations prepared him for the classroom.
“Columbus State is very fortunate to have Larry McWherter among our faculty,” said Dr. David Harrison, president of the college. “His extensive military experience has been invaluable in his ability to advance our cybersecurity program. Under Larry’s leadership, the program has attracted external funding, has earned national recognition, and has become a destination program for students and employers in this rapidly growing field.”
McWherter has been the principal investigator on three National Science Foundation grant awards for the college, leading projects to develop the cybersecurity program at Columbus State, associated talent pipelines, and expanding IT career pathways through apprenticeships with industry.
“I see great value in providing a workforce for all IT technologies, which will undoubtedly require secured systems,” McWherter said. “Right now, one in three cybersecurity jobs – on average – is empty. Teaching feels like a calling. It’s good for the nation – and the defense of the nation – to train a force of students able to fuel the country’s innovations.”