WNCC Alumnus Lukas Simianer to Speak at Foundation Celebration | Education
When WNCC Foundation Executive Director Jennifer Reisig asked Mary Sheffield, Director of WNCC Foundation Alumni Relations and Stewardship, for keynote speaker ideas for the Foundation’s Half-Centenary Celebration WNCC, one person immediately came to mind from Sheffield: former 2017 WNCC Lukas Simianer.
Simianer recently received several awards for its online learning platform called Clusive, Inc.. One of the honors, billed as one of the top five tech communities in Austin, Texas, went to Sheffield few months ago. by WNCC Professor Amy Winter. After reading more about Simianer’s work and speaking with him, she knew he would be the perfect fit for what the foundation was looking for in a speaker.
“I said we needed a focus — of course, student success, scholarships, that’s what we’re talking about on Thursday night — but we needed something,” said Reisig. “We needed a draw, and one of our board members said, ‘What about a past speaker?’ So I asked Marie.
Sheffield added: “We wanted someone young, dynamic, exciting… so when she (Reisig) asked I was like (Simianer would be a good choice). We did (a) video chat with him a few days later, and he was excited; we were excited.
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Simianer had attended the WNCC courses from January 2015 to May 2017. Originally from the Scottsbluff area, he joined the United States Army and graduated from the Army Airborne School at the age of 17. He left the military after being wounded in Afghanistan (for which he received a Purple Heart) and worked in a variety of jobs ranging from delivering diesel fuel to maintaining cables. Eventually, he decided to go to college, which led him to the WNCC.
“I started (with) just Gen Ed (general education), then I started with criminology. I remember I had Mrs. (Tiffany) Wasserburger; she was fun,” Simianer said. “…She made it real and I bonded with that, like in the military sense of clear and specific objective results, and then I kept taking more and more classes and realized that I didn’t. wasn’t bad at school. I was like, ‘OK, I can translate this discipline into being really good at something and being focused.’ And that’s where WNCC opened my horizons.
Simianer said it was at the WNCC that he finally felt comfortable with his learning abilities, having been diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of seven and never really feeling smart enough to anything before that.
However, the WNCC faculty and staff cared about him and pushed him to do his best. He was even encouraged and supported by the Veterans Center, and helped him figure out where he wanted to go in life.
“It’s really cool because they actually had something just for veterans,” Simianer said. “They understand the kind of mentality.”
Simianer’s experience at the WNCC led him to find his learning style and set him on the path to discovering his true passions. He went on to study nursing at UNMC, but later realized it wasn’t for him. He moved to Austin, Texas, got involved in the software engineering scene, and found his niche.
Unfortunately, the company where he got his first software engineering job became the subject of litigation after it was found to be non-ADA compliant. The options for the company at that time were either to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a three-month process to remedy the situation through a consulting firm, or to see if anyone internally had ideas. Simianer suggested hiring his stepfather, a blind engineer. Together, they mitigated the lawsuit and saved the company millions of dollars after just seven days on the job.
While Simianer was on cloud 9 after the accomplishment, his stepfather was a bit disappointed.
“He said, ‘Well, for the first time in my life, I feel intellectually valued, and it sucks because it’s never going to happen again,'” Simianer said, quoting his father-in-law.
His stepfather made reference to the fact that his disability of being blind often kept him stuck in minimum-wage, unchallenging jobs. It was then that Simianer launched Clusiv, an online learning platform designed to help blind and visually impaired people pursue their job dreams and goals.
After writing his first line of code for the company in January 2021 and 185 pitches to different venture capitalists, he finally had the opportunity to build success on his dream.
“From the date of the first yes to the closing of $780,000, (it) went less than two months,” he said. “So for me, that’s one of the biggest lessons to take from this – you have to be silly and resilient. … All that momentum – just no, no, no, no, no – all those “no’s” made me so good at what I was doing, that after I got the first “yes”, it was was all I needed to knock down the rest of the blocks.
That’s the message Simianer wants to bring to the WNCC community as he spends time with various groups and organizations throughout this week, ahead of his keynote speech at the Foundation’s 50th anniversary celebration on Thursday. Simianer said the big thing about his story is that you have to be resilient and eventually you will find your way.
“Just because you don’t see it here doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist,” he said. “…Success means something different to each individual; it’s not always just money, at all. It can be happiness, family, freedom – you can do it, depending on where you live, with very little money. But more importantly, don’t be afraid to dedicate yourself to something… You have the ability to do anything you want, no matter how smart or unsmart someone has told you, and you can just keep learning and growing. Because I mean, I don’t think I walked into that school and somebody was like, ‘Oh, tech millionaire right there.’ I was just a guy; I was a disgruntled veteran.
This disgruntled veteran has now won the Austin Fast Start: Social Impact Pitch Competition in May 2021, the Warrior Rising Veteran Pitch Battle in June 2021, the Bob Evans Heroes to CEO Grant Competition in September 2021, and was named one of Austin’s top five stars. -up tech communities in July 2021 – all of which he gives some credence to the institution that started it all for him.
“The teachers, the teachers, they cared; they took their time,” Simianer said. “They weren’t easy or gentle or forgiving, but they took the time to talk to you, which just isn’t possible at a giant university. It’s just not with a lecture hall of 300 people. And so, I got to know them, and they reached out to me, and you build a rapport. … It’s really important that people see the value of the WNCC. It’s the flagship of the hope, if you will, for kids who otherwise wouldn’t be told about an opportunity like the rest of us.
Simianer’s keynote speech at the WNCC Foundation’s 50th anniversary celebration is open to the public. Tickets are on sale at https://www.wncc.edu/community/foundation/foundation-50th-anniversary until Tuesday, March 22 at 11:59 p.m. The celebration will take place on Thursday, March 24 at the Gering Civic Center. It will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a cocktail; dinner will be served at 6:00 p.m. and Simianer will deliver his opening speech at 7:00 p.m.