Where is He Now? Computer and Electrical Engineering Grad Becomes COO

Twilight exterior shot of Rowan Hall

College of Engineering alumnus Ken Whelan at his job at ESS

Meet Kenneth Whelan, a 2002- and third-class graduate from the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering. Kenneth is the chief operating officer (COO) of Engineered Security Systems, one of the top 100 security integrators in the country. Today, he will share with us his journey, from picking Rowan University to becoming COO.

What inspired you to go into engineering?

My cousin, who is also my godmother, graduated from NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology) in engineering when I was 8 years old. I thought it was really cool to know what an engineer actually does. As I got older, I got into computers, so I kind of put them together and got into electrical and computer engineering.

How did you know Rowan University was for you?

Nighttime exterior shot of Rowan HallWhen I was looking at colleges, I really thought I was going to go to NJIT like my godmother. I went to two NJIT open houses and two open houses for Rowan. NJIT was a nice sunny day, nice weather, and it still didn’t feel like home. When I went down to Rowan, it was cold, windy and rainy, and yet it still felt like home. I went with Rowan because even on a day like that, it seemed like a nice place to be.

How did Rowan University impact your life?

I was very shy and not outgoing. Between the classes and student community, I really got out of my shell. Every class in the engineering department had a presentation we had to do and work in groups. It really taught me to work with other people and be able to stand up and present what I’ve done and really advocate for myself. I was also active in the electrical engineering society.

I learned to round myself, and it really helped me out in my career. I went from just being an engineer when I first got out to now being COO for a nationwide security company. I really attribute everything Rowan taught me to get here. 

Can you tell us more about Engineered Security Systems and your role in the company?

It’s a family-run company, and it was founded in 1971. I’m the first person to be leading it who is not part of the family. We do electronic security like access control, fire alarm systems, burglar alarm systems for businesses, colleges and hospitals. We do very high-end systems that are customized for each client.

Interior shot of a College of Engineering banner inside Rowan HallIn the morning I first come in and talk with the engineering department, I ask what they’re working on and what products are coming down the pike. As the day goes on, I spend time with the operations department. Same thing, I ask what they’re working on, what service call popped up. And I also check in with our sensor monitoring center to see how everything is going and how our clients are doing. As the afternoon goes along, I have meetings and conference calls with our clients and vendors. And I kind of spend my time rotating around all functions of the business.

Any advice for students interested or who are currently pursuing a degree in engineering?

Try to get involved in as much as you can. Don’t try to do just one type of project with engineering projects. Get involved in student organizations on campus and definitely get out of your comfort zone. Join something you don’t think you’ll enjoy — whether it is a fraternity, sorority or some other activity group — just to broaden your horizons and meet people who are not in your major.

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Story by:
Iridian Gonzalez, senior journalism major

Photo courtesy of:
Kenneth Whelan