Dr. William C. “Willie” Krenz is vice president and chief information officer of The Aerospace Corporation, and is responsible for overseeing and managing all aspects of the corporation’s capabilities related to computing resources and infrastructure including strategic planning, policy initiatives, customer support, and the development of applications critical to the success of the information technology program.
Krenz is a member of the Southern California CIO Governing Body, the Space Technology Industry-Government-University Roundtable, and the Microsoft CIO Advisory Council.
Krenz holds a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Southern California and a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, where he concentrated on the identification and control of nonlinear systems.
Krenz has been working STEM issues to help energize the next generation about the value and coolness of science and technology. He has worked in the corporate environment by mentoring students and early career employees, and volunteered with local schools to talk about the challenges and fascination with space and technology. He has also worked in his own community, volunteering with youth groups to show how science can be fun and interesting.
The Aerospace Corporation is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to the objective application of science and technology in providing innovative, critical solutions for complex systems.
Part of the corporation’s commitment to the future of our nation’s continued success in and access to space is to inspire new generations who will continue the work of companies like The Aerospace Corporation.
Aerospace has made STEM the focal point of its education outreach initiatives. Through employee volunteerism, and student and teacher collaboration, Aerospace focuses on inspiring middle and high school students to consider careers in the STEM disciplines.
Our mission is to develop a systematic approach that will utilize the knowledge, skill, and expertise of technical volunteers, promoting the advancement of science and math education with our youth. The ultimate goal of these partnerships is to encourage the prospect of cultivating future engineers for the entire aerospace and defense industry.
- Why is STEM education/workforce development critical to the future of our nation?
The vast majority of the country’s economical engine is based on technological innovation. The vast majority of that is based on a solid STEM foundation. The burgeoning services that are changing our world now in computers and software are absolutely dependent on the kind of sound thinking, problem solving, and mathematical perspectives that STEM provides. And the future changes (Data Science, nanotechnology, innovative manufacturing, cyber security) will be even more dependent on STEM. In the defense field, innovation is what keeps the nation at an advantage over adversaries. We cannot afford to outsource innovation, nor stifle it. My daughter, who is interested in politics and policy, got an economics degree from MIT because she realized that the kind of mathematical rigor she would learn there would give her a better foundation than many in the policy arena. Sure enough, politics now is as much about Big Data analysis as actual policy development. So we can only be enhanced as a nation with more smart students heading into STEM education, regardless of their final career.
- What challenges and opportunities do you see in the way we teach technology?
The biggest challenge is that people who are really fluent in technology are probably applying it in the commercial marketplace because the value to society is so high. So it is hard to find teachers in the traditional model who fully grasp the breadth of applications of STEM. I believe (though not all agree) that new models of online education offer a much more effective way of reaching students with state-of-the-art technology instruction and knowledge. I know that I consume most of my training this way and I find it very useful to learn at my pace, in the time slots I have available, and with the ability to replay certain sections when I need a refresher. This also allows very high-quality instructors to reach a huge audience with a consistent message that can be updated on a frequent basis.
- Where do you see the biggest area of opportunity in advancing STEM careers?
We will be short of computer science students for quite some time. As the world becomes increasingly digital, with exploding amounts of data and compute power, the opportunities for innovation will similarly explode. And it will do so through knowledge of how to utilize computers. But an even better combination is built on a foundation of science or engineering so that the computer scientist has an idea of how the world works or how problems can be solved systematically.
- Are you a mentor, and what is your view of mentorship? Did someone mentor you?
I am a mentor. I’ve had mentors. Basically every one I’ve ever met or had a conversation with has been my mentor. I think restricting yourself to one mentor is a bad idea because there is so much to learn from so many people that you need to take advantage of every opportunity. So I listen and learn from every interaction, whether fleeting or sustained, because I find value in gathering all that data from diverse perspectives.
- Leaders are in great demand as business builders and role models. What advice do you have for minorities and women coming “up” in the system?
My consistent career advice for people of any background is to make sure that you are contributing to the mission. You need to make a difference and move the ball forward. Everything else is secondary. At a company like ours, where mission success is the dominant goal, it’s pretty easy to know how to do that, and people will recognize you for doing it well, because that’s what we care about. If you make sustained important contributions and have an interest in doing that at a “higher” organization level, you’ll probably get that chance. It’s really as simple as that.
- What is your vision for the future of STEM careers, through diversity?
STEM is a great platform for diversity, because there is such a need for talent in STEM fields that you’d have to be an idiot to exclude someone who is qualified. At our company, we are totally focused on making things work, and we don’t care how you look, or talk, or spend your private time – we want you to make a useful contribution to ensure rockets launch and satellites operate and systems work. We don’t waste time with irrelevant factors. We spend time celebrating the accomplishments of everyone so that all of our groups of people feel that they have an opportunity for their voice to be heard.