By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – When Fred Trofholz enrolled at Kearney State College, companies like Google, Meta and Yahoo didn’t exist.
Nobody had smartphones, and personal computers were just starting to catch on.
That was 1981 – 10 years before his alma mater changed its name to the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
Even then, Trofholz was excited about the future of technology. He pursued a degree in computer science because he saw the growth potential and a “never-ending opportunity to learn.”
“You can say I’ve been doing the same thing for the last 38 years. Yes and no,” Trofholz said. “Technologies continue to change and force you to continue to learn them. Throughout my career, I’ve always taken on challenges that provided opportunities to learn something new.”
A Grand Island native and Marine Corps veteran, Trofholz graduated from UNK in 1984 and joined Harris Corporation as a computer programmer the following year. He currently works for Peraton, a technology company created in 2017 when Veritas Capital acquired Harris Corporation’s government services division.
Peraton specializes in areas such as intelligence, space, cybersecurity, national defense, homeland security and health. The government contractor has a decades-long relationship with the Department of Defense and extensive experience in providing technological solutions across the U.S. intelligence community and military.
As a senior systems engineer at the Bellevue location, Trofholz focuses on weather data processing. He and his co-workers design, build, upgrade and sustain systems used by the Department of Defense, NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Trofholz has certainly broadened his skills over the years – “I’ve probably taken 30-plus classes since I graduated to learn new things and earn certifications,” he noted – but the basics really haven’t changed.
“A lot of what I learned at Kearney is still very applicable today,” he said. “Those classes taught me how to be methodical and how to tackle computer programming and computer design in a logical way. I stress that when I come back and meet with students.”
That foundational education – “covering the basics,” as he calls it – is a strength of the UNK Department of Cyber Systems, according to Trofholz.
A member of the College of Business and Technology Dean’s Leadership Council, Trofholz returns to campus regularly to meet with students and faculty, whether he’s speaking during a class, presenting at a Cyber Club event or attending a career fair. He views the position as an opportunity to give back to UNK and help guide the next generation of computer science and information technology professionals.
“When I graduated from Kearney, I left there not knowing whether I was truly prepared,” he said. “I never had that opportunity to really understand ahead of time what to expect once I graduated.”
During his campus visits, Trofholz talks about Peraton and his day-to-day tasks. He also makes sure students know about other jobs and the skills they’ll need to be successful.
“Guest speakers, particularly those willing to take time to talk one-on-one with our students, provide wonderful advice that you just can’t get from a textbook, from home, and often not even from our faculty,” said Tim Jares, dean of the UNK College of Business and Technology. “Many of our faculty have significant professional experience, but they might be less connected to current hiring trends, work practices or evolving employer needs.
“It is to our faculty’s benefit, as well, to interact with Fred and others like him. That’s why so many of our faculty attend guest speakers, career fairs and other networking events with employers.”
Jares invited Trofholz to serve on the Leadership Council shortly after he was appointed dean in summer 2019. The two have known each other much longer, since they worked together at Harris Corporation in the 1980s.
“I don’t think he’s missed a meeting, and he’s been on campus recruiting or guest speaking at least once each semester, sometimes two or three times,” Jares noted.
Because of this connection, Peraton has become a popular employer for both UNK graduates and current students.
“We are extremely happy with the quality of the students that we’re getting out of UNK. And make no mistake, when we have an internship opening or a job opening, they are competing across the nation with candidates,” Trofholz said. “Last summer, we had 10 interns and Kearney was the only school that had two of those positions. That says something about the quality of the students that we’re getting out of UNK.”
Trofholz points to work ethic and other soft skills such as communication, teamwork and critical thinking as difference makers.
“And we’re seeing that from UNK students,” he said. “UNK is really pushing internships and I’m so glad they’re doing that, because it really provides a level of experience that you’re not getting in the classroom.”
As for his own career, Trofholz turns 65 this year, but he has no plans to retire. He’s still excited about his job and the opportunity to keep learning.
“I’ve truly enjoyed my career,” he said. “I’m amazed at the opportunity that was presented to me – the things I’ve learned and the people I’ve worked with. That’s what keeps me going.”