Drexel Cybersecurity Institute Director Receives Veteran Award

Norman Balchunas, retired Air Force colonel and director of cybersecurity programs at Drexel's Cybersecurity Institute
Norman Balchunas, retired Air Force colonel and director of cybersecurity programs at Drexel's Cybersecurity Institute

The director of national security programs at Drexel’s Cybersecurity Institute was selected as one of Philadelphia Business Journal’s 2015 Veterans of Influence.

A retired United States Air Force colonel who specialized in information operations and electronic warfare during his 25 years in the service, Norman Balchunas now directs programming and partnerships at the institute.

“It’s a nice surprise, truly appreciated,” said Balchunas, before adding, “But in and out of the uniform, it’s always about the team.”

A large part of Balchunas’ job is integrating the University’s education, research and relationships in order to counter the threats of cyber attacks.

Since “you never truly take off the uniform,” Balchunas said he still focuses his work on “ensuring that the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have the tools and training they need to take on evolving threats.”

Philadelphia Business Journal’s Veterans of Influence Awards work to “spotlight” veterans “who have served their country and are now impacting this region’s economic health and vitality.”

They honored Balchunas for giving Philadelphia a “focal point for research and educational programs in cyber security,” as well as his work in his church, Citylife Church, running a homeless shelter education program and serving on the board of a charter school board in the city.

Balchunas was born in Philadelphia and grew up in the city and, later, the suburbs outside the city. But mostly because of his military service, Balchunas has moved 51 times in 53 years.

Still, the Philadelphia region, which the award he’ll receive at a ceremony March 19 honors him for improving, has always been home — right down to his love of the Jersey shore, the Poconos, Citylife Church, and his favorite cheesesteak spot, Dallessandro’s.

The nomination for Balchunas came from a fellow veteran who works in Philadelphia’s cybersecurity sector, Thomas Heverin, who served in the United States Navy.

Being nominated by a fellow veteran speaks to Philadelphia’s vibrant veteran community, which includes Drexel.

“Drexel has an outstanding military focus and reputation as we are a yellow ribbon school,” Balchunas said. “But, more importantly, we link the veterans into the University. Among the Drexel staff we just started a Veteran’s Colleague Resource Group to raise awareness of issues affecting veteran employees and students.”

Balchunas also said the Veterans Administration Regional Hospital — which “remains a tremendous resource for veterans to get the critical treatment and support they need…despite all the negative publicity” — and the local Veterans’ Group are great parts of the veteran community.

“The Veterans’ Group is one of my favorite places, right here on the edge of campus,” Balchunas said. “It exists to empower veterans to once again become productive members of society when they have suffered from the experiences of war that can be exhibited in substance abuse, increased medical issues and reduced life coping skills.”

In Balchunas’ eyes, the veteran community extends beyond the veterans themselves, and includes families, friends, employers and other supporters.

That mentality is perhaps what prompted the nomination of Balchunas for the award and is also why Anthony Drexel, the University’s founder, stands out in the retired colonel’s mind.

“He was the consummate hard-worker and mentor,” Balchunas said. “He worked to established other people’s success, our city’s success and truly our national prominence at very critical times.”

“That still exists at Drexel today and why I think veterans resonate not only with the education and experiences they get at Drexel, but the mission to prepare each generation to solve our toughest problems.”