(325) 674-2173 sitc@acu.edu

Now presenting Dr. James Prather…

We’re celebrating with Dr. James Prather the successful defense of his dissertation and earning his Ph.D. after years of hard work and dedication. Defending a dissertation is the culmination of a long and laborious doctoral program, usually taking place over the span of many years. The dissertation defense is, in its self, a momentous milestone that signals reaching the pinnacle of one’s graduate student career. We’ve asked Dr. Prather to share with us his thoughts on the process.

What did you major in as a doctoral candidate?

The PhD is in Computer Science and my research focus area is Human-Computer Interaction.

Prather defends his dissertation.

What were the biggest challenges you faced in this process?

Teaching full time while also being a full time PhD student.

 

What were your most satisfying achievements during this process?

The publication of papers that I wrote, including work out of my dissertation.

The committee looks through Prather’s disseration slides during his presentation.

What did you learn that most surprised you?

When I was studying for my comprehensive exam in Computer Networking, I ran across a surprising little story: an undertaker named Almon Strowger found out that the wife of his competitor was the town telephone operator and was directing any calls for an undertaker to her husband rather than Strowger. So Strowger invented automatic telephone switching to remove humans from the decision making process and let an impartial machine do the job instead. It’s amazing what often drives technological innovation!

 

For students thinking about pursuing graduate school, what advice would you give them?

Find yourself a study group and communicate regularly – it’s a lifesaver. Get to know your professors and get involved in their research. Treat school like a job: go to work, do your work, come home and leave your work at work. Get some sleep!

 

You do a lot of research and projects with students. Please tell us what you have been doing this year and how you have engaged students in the process.

This year I have been mentoring a group of nine senior students who formed a local chapter of SIGCHI (Special Interest Group in Computer-Human Interaction). They developed a research idea, carried out an experiment, analyzed the data, wrote up the results, and submitted it to a top-tier international conference (SIGCHI 2018) and were accepted. In April, we’ll be traveling to Montreal, Canada, to present the paper and enter into that conference’s student research competition. I have also mentored an individual student in a one-on-one capacity who carried out her own research project during Fall 2017. Both the large group and the individual student will also be presenting at the ACU undergraduate research festival. Finally, I also involve a student or two in my personal research into how novice programmers learn to code and how we can make better user interfaces to increase usability and learnability.

 

What are you looking forward to now that you have successfully defended your dissertation?

Definitely spending more time with my family.

A happy Prather with his dissertation advisor after a succesful defense.

Anything else you’d like to mention?

My wife, Erin, deserves a big shout-out because while I was spending most nights and weekends at work, she was often at home alone with our small children. This PhD was a team achievement, for sure! Also, I don’t think that it would have been possible to complete the PhD without the support and encouragement of my colleagues here at ACU. The faculty with whom I work have all been through this process and have been sympathetic and even offered to help where they could. The staff have gone out of their way to help me when I was beyond busy. I’m so very grateful to work at ACU and I’m looking forward to the years ahead spent right here.

Nevan Simone Interns at NASA

This summer Nevan Simone, senior Computer Science major from Denton, TX, had the opportunity to intern with NASA at Langley Research Center in Virginia. His job at NASA was standard software engineering and he was assigned to create various databases for the information the team was collecting as well as build a UI for easier access to that data. Nevan’s average day included getting to work between 8 and 9 a.m., coding, documenting, and testing until noon, a lunch break and continuing the morning’s work until 5 p.m.. In addition to the various daily tasks assigned to him, he also had a mentor who he met with daily to help guide him and answer any questions he had.

 

Nevan Simone

 

Nevan says that he has always admired the vision and work of NASA, particularly in the astronaut program, and he was very excited to be a part of any portion of NASA’s work. In addition, this internship appealed to him because he wanted to branch out beyond the typical companies students work for that hire software engineers. He also was interested in finding more alluring projects. Nevan applied to NASA’s one-stop-shop-initiative (OSSI) for internships which is the primary resource for researching and applying for a NASA internship. Due to the number of internships available and the great diversity in the kinds of work done at NASA, Nevan was able to find something that not only fit his skill set but was also appealing.

Nevan said the most useful thing he learned in the classroom that was applicable during the beginning of the internship was all the practical elements of his software engineering class taught by Dr. Brent Reeves. The latter part of the internship required him to use material from Human Computer Interaction taught by Dr. James Prather. When work was slow, he found the most productive work option was to review Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krugs, which is a book required for the HCI class.

Nevan stated that the internship did have an impact on his perspective of business and technology; his biggest take-away from the summer was that everything operates on a budget. He found it interesting that the available resources and the scope of the project depended on how much money leaders determine the project is worth. Nevan’s best experience during his time there was being involved with Langley during its year-long 100th anniversary celebration. He was even able to attend the official birthday celebration where there was a field created to showcase the work that NASA has accomplished over the past century. Overall, his favorite part of the summer was realizing he was truly excited to continue work for NASA once he finishes his education. Nevan said that the drive provided by the nature of the projects energized him more than the thought of buillding his resume or making a living.