Born into a military family while stationed in Germany, Rik Barrera moved to Nebraska as an active-duty U.S. Army officer to assume the position of chair and professor of military science in the Army ROTC program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
Deciding to make Lincoln his long-term home, he retired from the military and became the business manager in the Beadle Business Center on campus and, on Oct. 27, he will be honored for 25 years of service to the university during the Celebration of Service.
“My family and I loved Lincoln and wanted to stay,” said Barrera, who previously taught leadership, ethics and military law at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. “If someone told me 30 years ago that I’d retire from the military and live in Lincoln, Nebraska, I’d have said, ‘What? Where?’”
While working at Beadle, a colleague reached out to Barrera and encouraged him apply for the newly-created position of assistant dean for fiscal affairs in the College of Business. A new dean was looking for an experienced business person.
“I thought what better place to be working as a business officer than in the College of Business? So I applied and was selected for the role,” he said.
Throughout his time at the college, his position evolved to include overseeing all operations for the college — budget, finance, human resources, information technology, facilities and events, staff performance management and development, diversity and inclusion, and communications, marketing and external relations. Taking on multiple roles led to a promotion to associate dean.
“There are so many skills from the military that apply to my work,” said Barrera, who earned a master’s degree in management and human relations from Webster University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona. “Probably the biggest one is leadership. Leading a group of soldiers in many different situations and environments was a perfect preparation to being a leader in the college. The project management skills I learned over my military career paid big dividends while leading projects. In the military, I also served in personnel and organizational development positions that have been invaluable in this current role.”
His favorite special duty, though, was being the college’s project manager for the planning and construction of the new 240,000-square-foot College of Business building, Howard L. Hawks Hall. Larger than the length of four football fields with 2,057 tons of steel, the building was also full of cutting-edge technology that allowed the College of Business to pivot more readily to remote learning during the pandemic.
“To lead those efforts for such a big and important project is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “There were more than 50-plus companies involved with the project. It was great to work with all the people and organizations involved.”
Another claim to fame under his leadership includes moving 260-plus faculty and staff from three sites on campus into the six-level building in less than 10 days.
“The goal was to be able to open the doors for classes in the fall of 2017. I’m even still a bit in awe over getting everyone moved in time,” he said. “It took hard work and commitment from all involved. I’ve always enjoyed a challenge, and there’s certainly plenty of that in this role.”
He and his wife, Lou Ann, have been married for more than 46 years. They have three grown children and eight grandchildren who live in Lincoln and Omaha.
“While not native to Nebraska, we now consider ourselves Nebraskans and love being Huskers,” he said. “I have often said that I still enjoy coming to work because of the people I get to work with. Great leadership, faculty, staff and students make this a job I look forward to coming to every day. It’s also wonderful to know that what we do truly makes a difference in Nebraska and the world.”