U.S. Congressman and Arkansas Tech University alumnus Kevin Hern returned to his alma mater on Wednesday, April 20, and shared his life story as an example of the American dream come true.
“America is about opportunity,” said Hern. “Chase your American dream. No matter where you came from, you can achieve anything you want to work hard enough to do. It doesn’t matter where you went to school. It doesn’t matter what your parents did. What matters is what is in your heart.”
Hern offered his reflections as part of the ATU College of Business Distinguished Lecture Series.
A 1986 graduate of Arkansas Tech and 2018 inductee into the ATU Hall of Distinction, Hern represents Oklahoma’s 1st District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Before he entered politics and was first elected in 2018, Hern was a McDonald’s franchisee. He owned 24 McDonald’s restaurants that employed hundreds of people in the Tulsa, Okla., area. He served 13 years on the national leadership team that represented all of the 3,500 U.S. McDonald’s franchisees, including eight years as ombudsman and five years as the chairman of the systems economic team.
Hern’s life journey began in rural Pope County.
“I learned at the age of 12, 13, 14 that if I worked harder than anyone else, I could make money,” said Hern. “I hauled hay. I wanted to put more in the barn than five adults.”
He attended Dover High School and the Area Vo-Tech Center (which has evolved to become Arkansas Tech Career Center). After graduating from high school, Hern utilized the blueprint drawing skills he learned at the Area Vo-Tech Center to earn a living. The money he saved from that job, along with a scholarship from Tyson Foods, allowed Hern to enroll at Arkansas Tech two years after he completed his high school education.
Hern recalls programming the first robot on the ATU campus in 1985. He remembers the guidance of Arkansas Tech faculty members such as Dr. Hark Chan, Dr. Mostafa Hemmati, Dr. Archie Lambert, Bobby Mullen and Rexann Oller.
“Education will not be a wrong choice in the decision tree of your life,” said Hern.
Hern earned an engineering degree at Arkansas Tech and entered the workforce with a goal of becoming an astronaut. He applied to Rockwell International and was hired to work for the company in Atlanta, Ga.
Shortly after joining Rockwell, Hern was taken to meet Bob Emmert. It turns out Emmert, who oversaw the missile systems division for Rockwell, was a 1951 graduate of Arkansas Tech. Hern’s alma mater caught Emmert’s eye when reviewing applications.
“The hardest thing in the world is to get through the door,” said Hern. “Once you get through the door, you will stay in the room. Work your tail off to get through that door. I worked every day with people who graduated from Harvard, Penn State and Southern Cal. I can tell you…they’re not any smarter than you. It’s about networking.”
From putting that hay in the barn to working his way through Arkansas Tech to the lean early days as a business owner, Hern left his audience with a road map to pursue and achieve their personal ambitions.
“Take the tough road,” said Hern. “That’s where no one goes. That’s what will make you special, and there won’t be many people in your way.”
Learn more about the ATU College of Business at www.atu.edu/business.