The ‘Woz’ at Lake Tahoe

Apple co-founder speaks at Siebens-Binz Forum

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The ‘Woz’ at Lake Tahoe

Photo courtesy: Sierra Nevada College

Photo courtesy: Sierra Nevada College

Photo courtesy: Sierra Nevada College

Morgan Meadows, Reporter

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Patterson lawn was nearly unrecognizable Saturday, Sept. 23, as hundreds gathered in spite of the cold for the chance to pick the brain of the man who single-handedly designed the first personal computer.

Steve Wozniak, or “the Woz” as he is affectionately known, is a philanthropist, innovator, creative thinker, and Silicon Valley icon who was selected to be this year’s special guest at the Tahoe Forum.

“The purpose of the forum is to bring someone who is renowned, either if it’s in business or in culture, to start a conversation between students, teachers and locals. It’s a value we hold dear,” said SNC’s major gifts officer Diane Severance.

Wozniak co-founded one of the world’s most recognizable brands, Apple, with visionary inventor Steve Jobs. Wozniak designed Apple’s first line of products, the Apple I and Apple II, enabling computer technology to be accessible in homes across the country and abroad.

“I designed the Apple II computer all on my own. I look back now and ask, ‘How could a human being ever think that way?’ It was like magic was coming out of my head like Bob Dylan words,” Wozniak said at the event. “Now I’m only a genius at one thing: making people think I’m a genius.”

This year’s Tahoe Forum brought a record-breaking crowd of nearly 1,000 students, professors and local residents. It was held as a moderated discussion between Wozniak and Michael Thomas, chief marketing officer at a Reno-based Nobel Studios, a Reno-based digital marketing agency. Thomas has a background in broadcast journalism.

Thomas asked Wozniak a series of questions “submitted by students and SNC leadership,” according to Severance. At the end of the interview-style presentation, the floor was opened to the audience for further questions. The bulk of the discussion was centered around Wozniak’s contributions to the business world and his efforts to bring computer education to the next generation.

Wozniak brings together two themes that SNC holds dear: entrepreneurship and education. “The core concepts of entrepreneurship are very important to the school and its values and the benefactor and her values,” Severance said.

“We believe that there is a commonality between SNC Tahoe and Steve Wozniak—the power of uniting people and entrepreneurial ideas to create opportunities for a better world,” said Kendra Wong, business department chair, in her introduction to the event.

The Tahoe Forum, held every other year, is endowed by SNC benefactor Nancy Siebens-Binz, with the aim to inspire students and spark intellectual discourse within the greater SNC community. Siebens-Binz’s donation, which is earmarked exclusively for the forum, allows free admission for all attendees.

During his opening speech, President Alan Walker said, “The Tahoe Forum has been bringing world-renowned business and cultural leaders and thinkers to SNC Tahoe since 1995.”

Previous Tahoe Forum special guests have included author Isabel Allende and astronaut Eileen Collins.

Wozniak’s appearance at the Tahoe Forum drew audience members of varying backgrounds. Some came to learn more about the beginnings of Apple and the personal computer industry, while others were lifelong admirers.

“I’ve been a really big fan of Apple since the beginning,” Incline resident and former SNC business law professor Alan Tiras said. “My very first computer was an Apple II Plus. I wish I still had it. I would have him sign it.”

One woman in the crowd was sponsored by Wozniak to run the Boston Marathon in 1996 and had gone to high school with Wozniak’s close friend and business associate, Steve Jobs.

Many SNC students came to the forum to learn more about the beginnings of the company that helped to make technology so widely available in their lives.

“I want to hear the story,” business major Caroline Sanden said. “I think it’d be interesting to learn about how he started the computer industry and why he left Apple.”

After helping to spark the tech revolution, Wozniak directed his lifelong passion for mathematics and electronics toward teaching elementary school students how to use computers.

“Education will always be the most important thing to me,” Wozniak said. “You can inspire and teach creativity at a very young age. I think that sometimes it means even more when you want to learn something for your own sake, outside of school.”

Having originally dropped out of college, Wozniak went back to school after the creation of Apple. To avoid being recognized, he received his B.S. degree in electrical engineering and computer science under the pseudonym “Rocky Raccoon Clark.”

Wozniak was awarded the National Medal of Technology by President Ronald Reagan in 1985. It is the highest honor that can be bestowed within the field. He was inducted into the Inventors Hall of fame as well as the IndustryWeek Manufacturing Hall of Fame. He was presented with the Heinz Award for Technology in 2001 and has been granted honorary degrees from institutions of higher education around the world.

Wozniak said that the environment in which learning happens can have a large impact on the creative output of students. “The quality of a place that you are learning in does influence your life quite a bit. [SNC] here is the very best,” Wozniak said.

According to Wozniak, formulas aren’t just for scientists and computers. For those looking to maintain a balanced life, Wozniak recommends a simple guideline. “My formula is H = S-F,” Wozniak said. “Happiness equal smiles minus frowns.”

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