When he was a Whitworth senior in 1980, Ken Pecka, a four-year letterman in football and track, was the first athlete to receive Whitworth’s Dennis Spurlock Memorial Award. The honor, named for the former Pirate All-America quarterback, is given annually to an athlete “whose contributions and achievements in Whitworth athletics are characteristic of the award’s namesake: modesty, poise, knowledgeable leadership and respect among associates.” Those characteristics continue to apply to Pecka, who has helped lead Whitworth’s technology transformations over the last few decades.
Pecka majored in computer science at Whitworth and returned to the college in 1984 to be the director of computer education. After a year, a high-tech computer company lured him away, but he returned as an associate for academic computing in 1989. In those early days, he worked on task forces with then-director of information systems Jack Miller to improve the computer/user experience for students and departments across campus. Pecka, Randy Michaelis, ’74, then an associate professor in the School of Education who had taken over Pecka’s position during his absence, and math professor Howard Gage, ’62, worked together to secure Murdock grants that funded computers for campus computer labs and provided all faculty with personal computers beginning in the late 1980s.
When The Whitworthian published an article, “E-Mail Comes to Whitworth,” on November 9, 1994, the technology had been a long time coming for Pecka. He knew that many other colleges and universities were starting to offer Internet access and e-mail to their students, but Whitworth didn’t yet have a network manager. At the beginning of the academic year, Pecka was named to that position, a move that allowed him to help set Whitworth’s technological revolution in motion.
In 1995, Pecka organized a pilot group to help test Whitworth’s new e-mail and computer systems, to determine how best to train students to use these new tools. What seems commonplace now was nothing short of transformational for students and professors then. Dorm rooms were wired that fall for Internet access, and students who had a computer could purchase an Ethernet card and sign on with an I.D. number and password.
In addition to working out the kinks in these new resources, Pecka was instrumental in ushering in new classroom technology. Whitworth received its next major technology grant in 2001, when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded the college $750,000 to fund technology in the yet-unconstructed Weyerhaeuser Hall, as well as in classrooms across campus. The award was key in allowing Whitworth to stay competitive with other institutions and to respond to the changing needs of students.
Pecka, who is now Whitworth’s director of institutional resources, has been one of the most influential people in responding to technological advances, bringing them to Whitworth, maintaining and upgrading systems, and facilitating student and employee training. Among the students who have benefitted from his efforts at Whitworth include his sons Kenny, ’04, Danny, ’05, and daughter Jill, ’14. His wife, Tammie (McCloskey), ’82, is also a Whitworth grad.
“Ken has provided amazing servant-leadership to the campus through all the fast-paced (and sometimes crazy) cycles of change that have occurred over in the world of technology,” said Michaelis. “Always friendly, seemingly unflappable, constant in his commitment to Christ and his family, Ken continues to show up every day and make things better for other folks.”