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Dr. James Prather Spends Summer Consulting with iHeart Media

Dr. James Prather

We often hear of students gaining knowledge and experience through summer internships. What many students may not know is that faculty members often use the summer to hone their skills, learn knew information, conduct research, and work on projects. Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Dr. James Prather, led a research initiative at iHeartMedia to redesign one of the internal tools iHeart’s sales team uses, the Campaign Recap App.

Refining and redesigning the app was very important for the sales team so that they are able to show clients the value that advertising with iHeartMedia provides to them, at meetings which often happen at the end of an advertising campaign. Prather traveled to New York City, San Francisco, and San Antonio to interview the iHeartMedia sales teams, managers, and even top executives. In talking with each group, he learned what they needed the app to do, what clients expected from them, synthesized the dozens of hours of interviews and other data collected, and then created wireframe mock-ups of what the redesigned app should look like and what it should do.

The opportunity to work with iHeartMedia came about from a connection through the SITC Visiting Committee. Steve Mills, Chief Information Officer (CIO) of iHeartMedia, is a member of the SITC Visiting Committee. Mills, who has a Ph.D. in Computer Science, has another tie to ACU. Two of his children are ACU Alumni. He enjoys giving back to the university through both his academic and professional experience. On his last visit to ACU, Mills and Prather discussed consulting work with iHeart Media and Mills connected Prather with the right people inside the company. Four interviews later, Prather had a contract.

The consulting work gave Prather an opportunity to collaborate with a varied group of people in the company. He worked directly with account executives (sales), business analysts, programmers, the user experience design team, and marketing. He also had the unique opportunity to work with two interns, Jessica Wininger and Zachary Albrecht, who just happen to both be ACU/SITC students.

Prather said that one of the biggest surprises that he found while consulting at iHeartMedia is that, “The radio industry is far more complex than I ever anticipated. They don’t just sell radio ads, they sell digital streaming ads, website banner ads, social media campaigns, outdoor advertising, event and concert sponsorships, live events, and a lot more. But even just the broadcast radio portion is very complex in the way an ad goes from concept to being played on the air. There are so many moving parts, technology-wise, that it gets really complicated really fast. I now have a deep respect for these professionals that handle such a massive amount of data every day.”

Prather’s work at iHeartMedia will definitely be showing up in his classroom during the coming academic year. “I’ve got so many stories about working with users, translating requirements from business stakeholders, having discussions with upper management and more. It’s all directly relevant to the jobs that I’m training college students for. But not only does it make me a better professor in the classroom, I think it also brings credibility with students. I’m literally doing the thing I’m training them to do and they see that.”

Prather is known for bringing faith into the classroom and teaching students how to live out their faith in the workplace. He observed that people take notice when they find out you are a Christian. He said, “They watch you to see if you’ll actually walk the walk and not just talk the talk. And when they see that you actually follow Jesus, they start asking questions. I’ve had a lot of surprising faith conversations in just the three months of this summer. I’ve even done some pastoral counseling with a colleague. If I could have my students learn one thing about working it’s that people pay attention to what you say.”

To learn more about how Dr. James Prather combines faith and work, click here. To learn more about the School of Information Technology and Computing, click here.

Alumni Spotlight on Joseph Quigley (’13)

Since graduating with a degree in Computer Science in 2013, Joseph Quigley has never stopped learning. While he hasn’t earned additional degrees, he continues to learn through his day to day experience and his thirst for knowledge to hone his skills. Joseph currently works as an iOS Developer at Big Nerd Ranch, a consulting and tech education company for professionals and companies looking to sharpen their skills or improve their apps. Previously, Quigley worked as the tech lead for USAA’s virtual assistant project for 5 years, spending considerable time building both the iOS client and building the backend.

Photo by Asia Eidson, Photobyjoy

After graduating from ACU, one of the biggest surprises on entering the working world was the realization that, “I had to put in a lot of ‘extra curricular’ work in addition to my regular 40 hour work week to stay relevant. Most jobs after you graduate have you do lots of the same things and you become an expert in a narrow slice of your industry, while other jobs may have you be a jack of all trades and not give you time to specialize. It’s up to you to make up the difference, otherwise you risk being outsourced more easily.”

When asked how his faith has impacted his work, Joseph said, “ACU is a bubble of Christianity. When you leave

it, you are faced with a lot of pressure to do things unethically and unChristlike. I learned how to look at things ethically from a CS perspective and ethically from a Christ perspective. My faith is what helps me make the best possible decision when there’s no clear or easy right one.”

While at ACU, the faculty and staff shaped his future by creating a reputation about ACU students that helped Quigley find an excellent job after graduation. He said, “They (faculty and staff) always spoke highly of me and that reputation followed me to my first job. Many people at my first job had heard of me despite never having gone on a recruiting visit to ACU. I’m very grateful for how well COBA faculty and staff championed us students to employers who visited campus.”

While the ultimate outcome of college is a great job, most students most coveted time is spent having fun. Some of Joseph’s favorite ACU memories consist of playing LAN parties with classmates until 3 am in COBA, and private, semester-long, inside-joke persistent chat rooms for specific classes that made the professors smile when they caught glimpses of the puns or comics people drew about the course material.

Quigley says that both Dr. John Homer and Dr. Ray Pettit taught him some extremely important CS concepts by

Photo by Asia Eidson, Photobyjoy

using both fun projects and assignments. He actually picked their classes for two electives that were only offered every other year and weren’t the “popular” classes as these offerings allowed students to have small classes with more attention, help, and fun.

Joseph advises current students to take classes with as many professors as possible early on and then to try and take upper level classes with professors you click with. “This will not only help your GPA when things get harder but you’ll want a place of refuge from the craziness of all the other non-CS or IT classes.”

For prospective students, Quigley says , “Whichever school you pick, make sure you pick one where you can see that they care about you as a person, a student, and where you could see yourself becoming friends with the faculty. I’ve learned a lot about life from the faculty I’ve stayed in touch with since graduating and I’m honored to be friends with them. Oh, and compared to the three other colleges I visited, ACU faculty were the sharpest, friendliest, and coolest of all the schools.”

To learn more about the School of Information Technology and Computing, click here.

Student Spotlight: Donte’ Payne

Donte’ Payne (’19)

Digital Entertainment and Technology

ACU wasn’t his first choice when he was accepted, but after visiting during his senior year of high school, Donte’ Payne, a senior Digital Entertainment Technology major from Killeen, Texas, knew that ACU was the college for him. Donte’ loved the community and liked that the school was the perfect size for his needs. Payne said, “You aren’t just another student on the roll call; the teachers are able to talk to you one on one and really get to know every student.”

Donte’ began his ACU career as a kinesiology major but when he learned about the Digital Entertainment Technology major, he decided to pursue his passion for animation. He is currently working on the first 3D animated film to be entered into ACU’s Film Fest. Animation can seem like a daunting field to enter into, but Donte’ said, “It is okay to go in not knowing anything, that’s what the program is for… [The professors] are here to help you learn and to help you figure out what you love.” When asked what drew him to animation Payne said, “Being able to make someone laugh and tell a story with your drawings, making an impact on people’s lives – it’s just amazing.”

One of Payne’s favorite courses was a special topics course, DET 340: Game Engines, saying, “It provides you with a different aspect of what people look for in gaming … and the different perspectives towards it.” He liked that the class was less of a lecture and more of a conversation between not only the professor but also his peers. Donte’ remarked that some of the most enlightening conversations he has had have been with his fellow classmates.

Since coming to ACU, Payne has been very involved on campus as well as in the department. He works for the Residential Life office, is president of the DET Club, works as a teacher’s assistant for Dr. Brian Burton, and helps throw events for Gamers Guild. Donte’ really enjoys all the chapel options available to the student body such as DET Chapel, Gamers Guild Chapel, and Midnight Worship. Since enrolling at ACU, Donte’ believes that every year, student life on campus gets better and better.

Donte’ is set to graduate this May and is hoping to intern with Pixar but is also exploring master’s degree programs for animation. Want to know more about the DET major or the School of Information Technology and Computing? Click here to learn more.

Q&A with December Graduate, Holt Herndon

Holt Herndon is a senior computer science major from Abilene, Texas. This past summer, Holt had an internship with USAA and will be working for them after graduation. We asked Holt a few questions about his time at ACU. 

 

Q: How has your education and experiences at ACU, especially in your department, prepared you for the future?

A: The experience that prepared me the most was probably my internship. This summer, I interned at USAA in Plano. During my internship, I did Java programming for a test suite. Along with that, I worked along with some of the senior developers on the team to assist in looking into some of the future software that would be used at USAA. I really enjoyed dealing with enterprise-grade software and systems. It was an incredible learning experience for me, and I highly recommend it. My internship also helped me receive an offer for a full-time job which I’ll be starting in January, which definitely helps with preparing a future.

 

Q: What was your favorite class in your department?

A: That’s a tough question. It would be between Operating Systems (CS 356) and Computer Organization (CS 220). I enjoyed both of them for very similar reasons. Both classes got deep into how a computer works in its more primal form. Learning about computers at such a concentrated level helped me understand and learn how to write programs that are much more efficient.

 

Q: Who was your favorite professor and why?

A: James Prather was my favorite professor. He does a great job of explaining things in simple terms, his assignments were very hands-on which helped me learn, and I enjoy being around him.

 

Q: If you could talk to a prospective student considering coming to ACU, why would you tell them to choose ACU?

A: I would tell them to come to ACU for the education they will receive. I really enjoyed my computer science professors. In all my classes, I learned something new and useful that furthered my career in programming. All my professors knew me by name and were always willing to help me achieve my goals, which isn’t something that is guaranteed at other schools.

Christian Game Developers Conference Ties Work and Faith Together

This summer, Rich Tanner, Clinical Professor of Digital Entertainment Technology, attended the Christian Game Developers Conference held yearly in Portland Oregon. Six students from the School of IT and Computing attended with him. The mission of the conference is “bringing salt and light to one of the most influential industries of the 21stcentury”. Tanner spent a little time to tell us more about his experience as an attendee and professor hoping to encourage his students to share their faith through this platform. 

 

 

What is the Christian Game Developers Conference about?

The Christian Game Developers Conference has been going for 17 years, and seems to be growing every year.  It is a conference for Christians in the games industry, whether they are building overtly Christ-centered games or not.  Many participants are utilizing video games, computer games, and even board games and card games to advance the Kingdom.  These games have different purposes.  Some are to strengthen the Body of Christ, being designed for a Christian audience with a common understanding and background.  Others are designed to reach an audience that does not yet know Christ and to pull them into a conversation about Jesus and Christianity.  Still, other Christian games are simply designed as wholesome entertainment for Christian families that do not violate Christian beliefs and morals with the questionable content often found in the industry.  In addition to these endeavors, the conference also serves as a gathering for folks in the larger games industry who also happen to be Christians. The conference often hosts discussion groups and presentations on what it means to be a follower of Christ in an interactive and multimedia career field.  The conference is a place not only for presentations and sharing of ideas and announcements, but for fellowship and fun.  Many projects and collaborations are often formed at the conference by various CGDC attendees.  I personally have never been to any other conference that looks as much like the Body of Christ in action.

 

What were you hoping students would get from attending the conference?

I was hoping for students to network and get engaged!  The collaboration that happens at CGDC is truly something special, and it is my desire to get students plugged into projects and companies that they can be meaningful contributors to.  The DET program has already had a couple of students get connected to both jobs and internships based on connections that were made and strengthened at CGDC.  It was also my hope to have students walk away from the conference and the conversations that happened there with a stronger sense of their purpose in the Kingdom and in the world at large.  I wanted them to be asking themselves what it means to be a Christian who is learning and aspiring to be a game and content creator.

Why should students become involved with this? How do they become involved?

Students can get involved simply by getting involved with the DET program, the DET Club that meets every week, and by being involved with other students who share their passions and ambitions.  Also, connecting with faculty really helps us to help you.  There are many great opportunities that come our way, and we want to see you succeed both in the classroom and beyond!

Mike Wheeler, senior Digital Entertainment Technology major from Plano, Texas attended the conference. He said that his biggest takeaway from the conference was learning how important stage presence is, including appearance, a working presentation, and properly selling your idea or product to the audience. Kolton Burkhalter, senior Digital Entertainment Technology major from Abilene, Texas said that the idea he took away from the conference was that it’s possible to keep one’s Christian values in your work. He said that the conference also influenced him to want to start a business alongside his good friends who share the same interests. Seeing many of the developers at the conference who were self-employed or worked in a small studio has given him the confidence to be a gaming entrepreneur.

Burkhalter said the thing he enjoyed most about the conference was “the selflessness shown by everyone there that sets them apart from an ordinary game developer conference. It was less about professionalism and more about community – everyone was willing to help one another amidst working in different companies. The conference was very welcoming and seemed like a family.”

Are you a DET student who’s interested in attending this conference in the future? To learn more about the Christian Game Developers Conference, click here. To learn more about ACU’s DET Club, click here.