Dave Nelson, founder and former CEO of Pratum, a cybersecurity firm located in Ankeny, became a Future Ready Iowa mentor in 2020. As a mentor, Nelson works directly with a mentee enrolled at Indian Hills Community College who is working toward building a successful career.

Nelson sets aside time throughout the month to spend with his mentee and help to answer any of their questions and learn about their life and goals. “I firmly believe you have to build into the individual first, and their personal lives first, and then you can have those other conversations about school,” he says.

Nelson said their school discussions start simply with, “What classes are they taking? What topics have they covered? Do they have questions specifically about any material they have covered?” Nelson explains. “Some of the things my mentee was looking at in the classroom, they had questions about why do I need to know this? What’s the practical application? So I could really talk a little bit about that.” Nelson also delves into discussing internship opportunities and the specific cybersecurity career field. Nelson and his mentee discuss any questions regarding the career field, such as, “Where did he want to take that career? What did that look like? What are some of the steps that he needed to do to get prepared for that? What was going to be some of his challenges?”

Aside from Nelson’s industry knowledge and experience, he offers his mentee exposure to a large network of people. Nelson explains that the connections he has built up throughout 30 years allow him to introduce his mentee to the correct people in five minutes.

As a mentor, Nelson has high expectations for his mentee. He explains, “I’ve already got a career, so this is all for them, I’m trying to help them, and so I want them to look at this and say they’re owning their career, they’re owning their future success, and to put forth the effort and be prepared and be ready and do the hard work.” He continued, “I expected them to come loaded and ready with questions every time we met. If I gave them resources to read to help them, I expected them to read through them…sometimes it would be books, sometimes it would be just a quick blog article, something of that nature, but I would expect them to do that - but really to own it.” Nelson says his job as a mentor is “simply to be there, support, answer questions, and provide introductions.”

Nelson himself had a unique journey to get where he is today. He began at the University of Northern Iowa but dropped out right at the beginning of his junior year to start his first company. He worked some other odd jobs while building up his company. After some time passed, he sold his first company and began working in an executive position at a large bank. Then, in 2008, he started Pratum. “I’m very much a believer that there’s room for all sorts of types of education and experience levels," he said. "You can be successful coming right out of high school in this career field and jump right in and do some really cool stuff. You can go to a two-year school. You can go to a four-year school. You can get a master’s, a Ph.D., or you can have no schooling and drop out. I mean, there’s room for everybody, and everybody’s going to have a different path.”

No matter a student’s path, a mentor can be integral to their success. “There is a need for people to hear from others who are experienced in their career field that have walked that path," Nelson said. "It is going to be a different path than what the mentee is going to take, but still, it is going to be a good learning experience for them.”

Nelson says to be a mentor, “you have to truly have a passion for helping people and being somebody that can be trusted to be a good resource, so I think if people have that passion and that desire then absolutely, they should become a mentor.”

Nelson believes it is important to realize there are students out there “seeking this guidance. They’re seeking assistance. They’re seeking help. They’re saying I want to be mentored.”

“It’s a great opportunity for us to learn from the younger generation. What are they thinking? What are their perspectives? It's a great opportunity for us as professionals in Iowa to give back to future generations and to be able to say, hey, we are going to help you get a leg up. We are going to help you get a jump start in your career.”