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.
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.
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.
In May, ACU’s SITC had its first team compete at the Global Finals tournament of Destination Imagination in Knoxville, TN, winning first place in the Maze Craze category at the university level.
Destination Imagination, or DI as its most often referred to, is a gathering of over 8,000 elementary through university aged students from more than 15 countries around the world. Centered on creativity, the event allows student finalists the opportunity to display their inventive solutions in the areas of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics), as well as service learning and improvisation. Collin Blanchard, one of the ACU team members who participated, talked to us about the experience.
“DI is essentially, to my understanding, a place to participate in challenges of various types and to grow as a team. I had never heard of DI before, but Korbin Ancell had participated in it for something like 10 years. He told us about it and we decided we could do it at the university level.” Collin went on to explain how the challenge works.
“Each of the levels of competition was pretty similar, especially for us. At each level, we decided to keep our project mostly the same. The part that changed the most was our maze solver, the robot. At the regional level, a last minute change broke the robot entirely, so we had to resort to a remote controlled toy to complete the challenge. At state, our full solution was still not working, so we just controlled our robot with a remote, but at least it wasn’t a toy this time. At global, we had the full solution working, with a camera connected to a raspberry pi and codes that the camera would read to solve the maze and drive the robot for us. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the actual location, the noise from all of the Bluetooth and the glare from a light on our camera meant that we had to resort to driving the robot with a remote again. Our skit stayed the same through all of the levels, aside from missing Isaak at Globals since he started a new job. One last change was the song that we sang during the skit. At regionals, the song was our own lyrics to the tune of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. At State and Globals, it was a completely original song that Virginia Pettit and one of our teammates, Matt, wrote together. The skit told the story of unlikely pirates finding buried treasure and teaching a real pirate that friendship is the greatest treasure of all.”
Collin encourages others to participate in this event. “This was a really fun opportunity. If other students have a group that they get along well with and have an idea for one of the challenges, they should go for it! Even if they don’t win, it is a really good chance to build teamwork and use skills outside of the classroom setting.”
Learn more about Destination Imagination here.
Rachael Shudde (’18) is a recent May graduate who majored in computer science and math from Ovalo, TX. During her time at ACU, Rachael was involved with Mu Sigma, the Honors College, Ko Jo Kai social club, worked as a research assistant, interned in D.C., interned with NASA, and much more. After graduating in May, Rachael will be attending Texas A&M to earn her masters in statistics and will be working with Lockheed Martin as a data scientist and analyst while at school. “Statistics is a combination of everything I like,” said Rachael. “I can work with people, use my computer science and data skills, and help explain problems.” Rachael is particularly excited to attend Texas A&M for graduate school because of their emphasis on astrostatistics and telescopes around the world that yield interesting data. At Lockheed Martin, Rachael is most excited to work on real-world applications of her skills. “It’s very different to solve problems in an environment where someone does not have the answers,” she noted. “It’s also very exciting to work on problems that do not have answers.”
Rachael feels that ACU has prepared her well and the opportunities that she was able to take advantage of are one-of-a-kind. Especially in her areas of study, a lot of Rachael’s work was self-involved and required her to research and actively learn. She learned to establish what she does not know and make a plan to find the answer. Rachael’s love for learning, work ethic, and motivation from her teachers helped her achieve all that she has. However, the biggest impact ACU had on Rachael was not in the academic sphere. “I gained a lot of confidence in myself,” said Rachael. “Because of the faculty and mentors I have encountered, I am confident in who I am and my abilities and very happy with where I am at.” Rachael’s faculty, staff, and peers have all played instrumental roles in her life. Getting involved with her department allowed Rachael to meet awesome people and friends and helped create close relationships with the faculty. “The personal relationships I’ve built here are amazing and so special to ACU,” she said “It is visible how much the professors care.” While Rachael is excited for the future and what lies beyond graduation, she will also miss ACU where she has grown and felt so blessed and ACU will certainly miss her.
Faculty and staff of the SITC celebrated with graduates and their families at a dinner at Lytle Land & Cattle Company on Friday night. It was a time for those in attendance to celebrate milestones, reflect on their educational journey, and recognize talented students and faculty.
Faculty awarded outstanding seniors for the following:
Charlie Velazquez, Digital Entertainment Technology major, received the Inspiring Leadership Award with faculty members saying, “Over the last two years, he has distinguished himself with his attention to detail in creating incredible 3D models. He has inspired an entire group of underclassmen to a higher standard of game development.”
Collin Blanchard, Computer Science major, received the Award for Commitment and Resiliency. When asked about Collin, faculty said, “During his time at ACU, this student has shown great determination and willingness to learn whatever was asked of him. He has approached difficult problems with a consistently positive attitude and has made a positive impact on students around him.”
John Wolfe, Information Technology major, received the Pursuit of Excellence Award. Faculty said about John, “Over the past four years, he has distinguished himself among his peers as someone with a positive attitude and a persistent drive to search for and find answers. His motivation, perseverance and relentless pursuit of excellence has been evident in all that he does. He never gives up, even with the most complex problems and serves as an example to many.”
Korbin Ancell, Computer Science major, received the Application and Ingenuity Award. Faculty said of Korbin, “He is always involved with multiple projects both inside and outside the classroom in addition to working 2 to 3 part-time jobs. His exceptional curiosity has made him both a great student in the classroom, as well as leading him to accomplish a wide range of inventive projects of his own inspiration. He has developed a reputation around campus as the “go-to student” who can help with a wide range of technical projects.”
Alani Peters, Computer Science major, received the Research Dedication Award. Faculty said this about the final award recipient, “During her time at ACU, she has rigorously applied herself to the pursuit of research. She has contributed to each project through countless hours of hard work and has seen the fruits of her labor as publications in highly respected conferences with her professors and her peers.”
University Scholars, George Bush, Caleb Martin, and Nevan Simone were recognized at the dinner as well. These students were nominated by department faculty and recognized overall by the university as “excelling in scholarly activity appropriate to their disciplines.” Only fifty ACU students are recognized each year and this year, three of them are graduating from SITC.
Dr. John Homer received this year’s SITC Teacher of the Year award, presented by last year’s winner, Dr. James Prather. The Teacher of the Year award is voted on by all students in the School of IT and Computing. Students had this to say about Dr. Homer: “He is an incredible professor who cares about his students and takes the time to make sure the information is understood. He is an example of humility, Christian leadership, and quiet compassion. He’s also brilliant, an avid learner, and incredibly funny (but don’t tell him that). Dr. Homer somehow makes running the department, delivering polished lectures, and leaving time for family look easy. His professionalism and kindness toward both students and faculty is truly inspiring. I can think of nobody more deserving of this recognition.”
Congratulations to the award winners and to all of the graduating students in the School of Information Technology and Computing. Go change the world, Wildcats!
For a complete look at the pictures from the SITC dinner, click on this link.