Leaders of the Hack: Ascend Team Takes Top Prize at Hack Midwest 2022

More than a dozen team members from Ascend Learning’s Tech & Ops and talent acquisition teams came together at Hack Midwest in downtown Kansas City on July 23-24 to showcase their courage and selflessness, innovative abilities and collective passion to come away with a top prize and reinforce our strong presence in the local IT community.

Nick Ide, vice president of software engineering for Ascend’s healthcare segment, presented about Ascend Learning and the work of tech & ops teams during the event. He said Ascend came onboard as an event sponsor to increase the company’s presence in the local IT community and create opportunities for technical team members to showcase their capabilities and use new technology.

“Presence at events such as this has an impact on the recruitment of new talent,” Nick said. “Our team participation creates better employee engagement and helps develop their skills professionally. The creativity of all our team members is what makes our organization great, and we want to continue to find new ways for our teams to exercise those creative skills.”

Ascend sent two teams to compete against more than 250 engineers from around the KC metro area and the Midwest in the hackathon, in which teams are given a 24-hour window to ideate and execute a project from scratch that leverages one or many of the vendor provided technologies. Prizes are awarded across multiple categories including best use of blockchain, MongoDB, IPFS, video streaming, and best overall app.

Team members Tim Franzke, Robert Koons, Girish Shivaswamy, Pallav Saxena and Jim Sharp formed Team DeCAL, while Team SecureBadge brought together Duncan Ferber, Jason Brown, CJ Puvvula, Irappa Bisanakoppa and John Lalumondier.

Both Ascend teams focused on blockchain technology to create a means for providing certificates. Nick said that while this technology has been on Ascend’s radar, it has not yet been leveraged in any products, so the event represented a professional development opportunity.

“The teams were very excited that there were specific challenges that involved the use of Blockchain,” Nick said. “There is a natural alignment in terms of what Blockchain does and how we issue certifications and badges to our learners to recognize their proficiency in a particular area.  Blockchain allows these certificates to be created and verified on a decentralized network and that certificate can then be easily integrated into other platforms and social networks.”

At the end of the event, Team DeCAL from Ascend came away with the prize for best use of blockchain.

“Ascend is proud of all those that participated in the event and for enduring a sleepless night over a weekend to make this the first successful external Hackathon that Ascend has participated in,” Nick said. “Their creativity and accomplishments in such a short time was impressive. We look forward to seeing these skills on display in future events both internally and externally.”

Justina DeLuca and Niki Kearney also represented Ascend’s talent acquisition team at the Ascend booth during the event. Niki said the event provided an opportunity for their team to connect with talent ranging from current students to senior leaders in tech.

“As a talent acquisition leader for Ascend focused in tech & ops roles, being part of this event was inspiring to see our teams in action and to see the talent working in the tech space,” Niki said. “It was exciting to share our brand story with this group of professionals and talk about career opportunities at Ascend.”

At Ascend Learning, we’re proud of all our creative-minded, innovative teams for their outstanding efforts and for their demonstration of leadership in the tech community.

Ascend Learning Campaign for Ukraine featured in Boston Business Journal “Good News Tuesday”

We are pleased to share that our campaign for Ukraine was featured in the Boston Business Journal’s “Good News Tuesday” segment. Read more about how our team members and Ascend CEO Greg Sebasky joined together to support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, raising $100,000 in relief funds for three charities aligned to our mission to change lives across healthcare, education, wellness and safety: https://bizj.us/1qfwlg

Make Your Move: Bob Zender

At Ascend, we strive to provide opportunities for employees to stretch their skills and advance their careers by moving among business segments and brands, driving personal and team growth while creating a culture where people love what they do, take ownership and are empowered to pursue new career opportunities within the company so we “hire our own talent.”

Bob Zender moved from his former role as marketing director at Ascend brand ATI Nursing Education into a new role as senior director, healthcare integrations, where he leads cross-functional teams including operations, accounting and finance, sales and client success to successfully integrate acquisitions into Ascend healthcare brands.

Ascend Communications (AC): How would you describe your former team at ATI?

Bob Zender (BZ): The ATI marketing team is a team of high performers with an ownership mindset. They are great at understanding the big picture, focusing on high-value tasks and taking the initiative.

AC: What successes are you most proud of with your former team? 

BZ: There are so many. We play a big role planning and executing several very important events like the National Nurse Educator Summit and Nurse Educator Essentials, but also internal events like our annual National Business Meeting. The adrenaline and payoff of a well-executed event is hard to beat, and everyone needs to be pulling in the same direction for them to go well.

AC: What attracted you to the new opportunity?

BZ: After ten years at ATI, I understood how several departments worked — marketing, obviously, and product, a little bit of client success, and a decent understanding of sales, but my exposure to business operations, accounting & finance, and tech & ops was superficial. If I wanted to continue to grow as a manager, I had a lot to learn about those functions and still do. Taking on the role of integration manager was the opportunity to learn by doing. I really enjoy the people part of an integration — getting to know a new organization, their skills, strengths and aspirations, and helping them find their way within Ascend healthcare and its brands.

AC: How would you describe the dynamic of your new team?

BZ: I don’t have a formal team in my new role, just many, many dotted line relationships. My new role has greatly expanded not just my network within Ascend but also deepened my working relationships.

AC: Do you have any words of encouragement to others at Ascend who are considering “making their move?”

BZ: If a new opportunity scares you, pursue it — it also means opportunity for other people. For managers, taking on a stretch assignment is a wonderful opportunity to give your team greater autonomy and see them grow, too. Help them prioritize and remove obstacles but let them know you trust them to act on the company’s strategic priorities, and then let them.


When team members move to new roles across Ascend, they grow their skills and stretch their capabilities within a company they already know, maintain their benefits and connections with colleagues, and teams gain an employee already invested in the work, mission and culture — one that can ramp up quickly and bring legacy knowledge to their new role. To learn more about career opportunities at Ascend, visit our Careers page.