Let us introduce you to Dr. Brent Reeves, Associate Professor of Management Science and Computer Science, in our first COBA spotlight.
Dr. Brent Reeves
What is your educational background?
B.B.A., Computer Science, Abilene Christian University, 1980
M.A., Biblical and Related Studies, Abilene Christian University, 1982
M.S., Computer Science, University of Colorado at Boulder, 1991
Ph.D., Computer Science, University of Colorado at Boulder, 1993
I started as a double major in Bible and Accounting at ACU. I took Intermediate and Auditing before realizing I didn’t really like accounting. About that time, Dr. Charles Small joined ACU after finishing his Ph.D. at A&M. He said, “Switch majors – it’ll be great.” So, my junior year, 2 weeks into the semester, I dropped 18 hours and added 18 hours. Super stressful time. The schedule change made me reconsider the Bible major so I asked Dr. John T. Willis about the difference between an undergrad Bible degree and a graduate Bible degree. He answered, “When you finish the undergrad degree, you’ll be ready for the questions.” So he had me. My dad offered to pay tuition if I stayed at ACU, so I was fortunate to be able to study under Willis, Olbricht, Fair, Ferguson, etc. Those guys were great.
What is your work background?
My first programming job was part time at Dunigan Tool and Supply in Abilene. They had 10 oil field stores in 3 states. It was a fantastic opportunity. My boss, Dick Loveless, sent me on my first assignment with the admonition, “Don’t use any computer words. You’ll be talking to a guy who has done accounting for 25 years. He knows his stuff. He doesn’t know computers. Your job is to learn his stuff and translate it into a system.”
Next came ARCO Oil & Gas in Dallas for 4 years. We had 4 of IBM’s largest mainframes and a Cray-II supercomputer with 300 people in systems and programming. And… we made terrible systems. Every year, they got bigger and more expensive and…not any better. One day I caught an accountant saying, “All I wanted it to do was…” That got me thinking about User Interfaces – what would it mean to have a User Interface that let you do exactly what you wanted to do? And Knowledge-Based Systems – what would it mean if the system knew, understood what you wanted to do? Those two questions led me back to graduate school to study Artificial Intelligence and User Interface Design. In a random coincidence, I resigned the day the Challenger shuttle exploded.
After finishing graduate school in Computer Science in1993, teaching spots at the big “R” schools were, interestingly, not all that attractive. Two consulting opportunities arose – one with Software Research Associates, a company headquartered in Tokyo, and the other with ObjecTime, a Nortel-spinoff out of Ottawa. I got to work for ATT, Lucent, Motorola, and Ericsson and work in half a dozen countries. Challenging, but great.
What drew you to teaching and working with students?
The main draw was for the family lifestyle. You immerse your children in education – what it means to ask hard questions – what it means to work with people who study all kinds of different things they are passionate about. Enabling students who work hard to reach that “Aha” moment is great.
What is the best part of working with students?
Although the brilliant students are a delight, the best part is the students who just work hard. It is satisfying to see a student reach that point where it finally clicks.
Outside of teaching, what passions and hobbies do you have?
- Radio-control fixed wing and multi-rotors. Mostly scratch building. But now and then even flying. And by flying, I mean, crashing.
- I am fortunate to spend lots of time with my boys hiking around and enjoying creation.
- Terry Pope once humbly acknowledged that he was the best golfer in COBA. In that same spirit of humility, I am undoubtedly the best faculty player on ACU’s world famous intramural team, the Sunflowers of Death.
Sunflowers of Death
Do you have a good story from your early career in teaching?
The first day in Management Information Systems (45 students), as I was going through the syllabus, a student came in late and sat on the front row, pretty disruptively. Two minutes later a phone rings and he reaches into his backpack, looks at it, and answers it. “Hello? Yeah. Nah – some class. Whatever. Tonight? Sure.” By that time, I had just stopped talking. By now the whole class is listening in to this conversation. It just so happened that I had brought my grandfather’s hammer to class for an illustration about technology “tools”. So I walked over to the student and said, “Are you done?” “Yeah, why?” “May I please see your phone?” “Uhmmmmm, ok.” I took his phone, placed it on the floor, picked up the hammer and smashed the phone. Surprisingly, it didn’t just explode into bits, so I hit it again. Then I picked up the pieces, handed them to the student and said, “I’m sorry, son, but this class isn’t going to work out for you. You are excused.” He stammered around a bit and left.
The room was silent. Blank stares all around. Cell-phone policy explanation complete.
- I had said, “I’m sorry, son” because he actually was my son. It was Joshua, wearing a cap so students wouldn’t recognize him. When his phone rang, it was because I had speed dialed it without being noticed. When he answered it, he had reached into his backpack, turned off the ringing phone and grabbed a non-working old phone and pretended to have a conversation.
- The funniest thing of all was that right after I smashed the phone, Joshua was looking around at the students and a guy across from him was holding his own phone and frantically pressing ALL the buttons trying desperately to shut it OFF.
Who is your role model and why?
Mom. Growing up in a time when the public voices we heard were mostly male, she found a way to be constructive. Tireless worker, always teaching, volunteering, organizing.
Dad. Church of Christ preacher who decided to do missionary work in a foreign country. He was extremely well-read. Preached for German-and English-speaking congregations every Sunday for 12 years in Wiesbaden.
Dr. John T. Willis. In a graduate class “Advanced Introduction to the Old Testament”, each student gave a presentation on the book they had been assigned. When the Isaiah student started with the same-old same-old, Dr. Willis kindly interrupted, “I see your references don’t include Blinkendorfer. When you’ve had a chance to do a little bit more research, have another go at it.” Boom. I learned there are real issues in the biblical text and we must deal with them. Before you quote scripture, do your homework.
Who was your most inspirational professor and why?
Undergrad: Dwight Caughfield. Disciplined, studied, calm, clear approach to topics such as new programming languages.
Graduate: John T. Willis. He modeled how to treat scripture with respect, to do your homework – not just quote a 2,000 year old saying because you like its current translation.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?
If you rule out the “clearly ridiculous” powers, I choose… Magneto. Shaping metal would be awesome. Well, either Magneto or the power to type faster. Either one.
What is something that students might be surprised to find out about you?
- I’ve gotten to stand on Lost Arrow Spire twice. If you ignore the 3,500 foot drop, it has a nice view.
- I once learned to memorize a deck of cards so you could shuffle it, read the cards, and I could recite them forwards, backwards and name the 17th card, etc. So why are names so hard to remember?
What would you really want students and alums to know about you?
- We have a great set of profs here and after 14 years at ACU, I am still continuing to learn to appreciate how much work that takes. It takes much good will and many contributions to make ACU go.
- I wonder how to live a life that deals intentionally with the challenge to be “Grace and Truth”. What if that is the test? Today, this day, I am not so good at that.
COBA encourages students to go outside of the classroom and gain real working experience from companies in the business world via internships. In addition to classroom preparation for job and internship searches, the COBA Connections and Career Development team aids students by connecting them with internships to businesses and industries that the individual student is interested in. These internship experiences allow students to learn from experienced mentors and discover what field of work they may have a passion or interest for. Some of the companies COBA students have interned with in the last year include World Vision, Holt Lunsford Commercial, PFSweb, USAA, Sam’s Club, Walmart, and Northern Trust.
Cason Ford, a senior marketing major from Burleson, TX, learned a lot about the oil and gas industry through his internship with Dunaway Associates, L.P., an engineering consulting services company. At Dunaway, Cason spent time working with a project manager in the office as well as working on a land surveying crew, learning about project management and the process of business operations. After graduation, Cason will work as a financial professional for AXA Advisors in Austin. With the help of the COBA Connections Career Development office, Cason was able to connect with an ACU alum who is on the AXA team in Austin. In addition to the Connections Office, Cason is also thankful for the experience he gained with Dr. Terry Pope and the STAR (Student Trading and Research) program, enabling him to learn the business terminology and financial knowledge that he will need for his career.
“I feel confident entering this position because of the knowledge and skills I have learned while studying in COBA. I have learned the value of possessing and practicing with an entrepreneurial spirit, which is what I will need in my career,” says Cason.
Connor Osburn, a senior finance major from Southlake, TX, and the current President of Wildcat Ventures, has interned with both Holt Lunsford Commercial and Heil Trailer International. While at Holt Lunsford Commercial, he learned the ins and outs of commercial real estate, discovering how new developments can reflect the strength of a region’s economy and that location is key in any real estate investment. Going forward, Connor would like to pursue a finance role, specifically in analytics to identify young, promising companies. He is also interested in alternative energy/green technology and can see himself working with projects and companies in this industry.
Connor says, “COBA and the Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy exposed me to interesting new ideas, creative thinkers, inspiring entrepreneurs and opportunities to learn about all different types of career paths. I owe a lot to the COBA professors who have been more than willing to offer me advice or point me in the right direction.”
Natalie Lemieux, a junior from McKinney, TX, has excelled with her internship experience. Natalie is pursuing a major in information systems with a minor in international studies and information technology. Last summer, she interned with Lennox International as a Commercial Business Systems Intern. Her biggest takeaway from the internship was learning how to deal with project management and the flexibility within handling those projects. This summer, she will be interning with PricewaterhouseCoopers with the Technology Consulting team. Eventually, Natalie wants to pursue her MBA in international business. Natalie is grateful for the Connections Office and COBA professors, like Dr. Brad Crisp, who helped her find these particular internships.
“COBA’s atmosphere really helped to prepare me to be in a professional environment. I know that I have set myself apart from many other applicants that have applied for these positions because of the relevant hands-on experience and projects I have done inside of the classroom,” says Natalie.
Cason, Connor, and Natalie are only a few of many students who have interned while at ACU. Through faculty and the Connections Office, COBA aims to provide students with internship opportunities in the specific career fields that students are interested in pursuing. Internships are the perfect way for students to gain exposure to different companies and industries, allowing them to gain an advantage when looking for jobs after graduation. Congrats to all students who have interned and are planning to intern this next summer.
Over the fall break, students from the Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy and the School of Information Technology and Computing traveled west to Silicon Valley. Dr. Jim Litton and Dr. Brad Crisp led the group of 16 students to visit and explore several tech companies varying in size and function, from start-ups to some of the most recognized companies in the world. Some of these included Google, LinkedIn, Circa, the Silicon Valley Bank, Livingly, Yahoo! and Square. Students were able to learn about the fundamental principles of technological companies as well as having the opportunity to network with alumni and potential employers.
COBA and SITC students tour Yahoo!
Connor Osborn, a junior Accounting and Finance major from Southlake, enjoyed visiting Silicon Valley Bank. SVB’s mission is to “increase innovative companies’ probability of success worldwide” and is the premier bank for all venture capital firms. The group learned about the services the bank offers as well as the complex system by which the capital is distributed, put to work, and then returned.
Students were toured around LinkedIn by ACU alum, Asa Kusuma.
Spencer Woolfolk, a junior from San Antonio, found the trip to be highly valuable, learning what it looks like to work in Silicon Valley and the purpose and vision of the companies’ brands. The experience of personally visiting such well-known companies is unlike anything one can learn inside the classroom. Spencer is excited to use this knowledge going forward, integrating his passion for marketing with entrepreneurship and technology.
“I am very grateful to the faculty that put the trip together. It was invaluable to be able to learn more about Silicon Valley and the technology field,” says Woolfolk.
Imagine having a set of social listening tools that can measure exactly how effective your brand’s sharable content is. Well it is time to stop daydreaming and get social! In the fall of 2012, six founding members, including former ACU, SITC, and COBA graduates Brad Neathery (2011), Clay Selby (2011), and Braxton Huggins (2010), teamed up and created SocialRest, a set of specific tools designed to measure social shareability, engagement, and conversions made from a brand’s website content across social platforms. SocialRest measures how social users engage with a brand because of user-shared content from their website. SocialRest then follows that social user if they visit that brand’s website, listening to how they engage with content on the site and measuring conversion rates on the brand’s website.
In the fall of 2012, founder of SocialRest, Clay Selby who majored in IT in the School of Information Technology and Computing, pitched the idea at a conference in San Antonio called Three Day Startup. After the event, Clay and co-founder, Brandon Ashton, started developing the idea. After a long process of building, measuring, and learning, SocialRest became a reality, with potential to be one of the top start-ups of 2014. This set of social tools features social analytics, simple integration, impression tracking, customer behavior interest, and ROI tracking. SocialRest can also determine whether the content written on a regular basis is successful. News sites, brand-building blogs, and businesses that rely heavily on their content creators can benefit greatly with these measuring tools. SocialRest can help businesses observe, visualize, and adapt to customer responses on their site, making the process of seeing user engagement and conversion highly efficient.
The SocialRest team expects the site to become the premier listening tool for B2C (business to consumer) brands with shareable content on their website or blog. SocialRest has recently been ranked by ClubLab (a London philanthropic agency) as one of the 12 start-ups to watch in 2014, alongside high-caliber brands like Nest (acquired by Google), Topsy (acquired by Apple), and other legendary start-ups. In the month of February, SocialRest increased Twitter followers by 1200% and received over 20,000 social mentions. This company is definitely one to watch, with mentions from ClubLab’s “Top Start-ups to Watch in 2014” and Chelsea Krost’s “2014 The Year of the Millennial”.
Brad Neathery, an ACU and COBA graduate who majored in marketing, credits their success to a number of factors, including the positive mentoring influences and constant engagement with potential users of the tools. Brad also stressed how much the Lord has aided in the process, working in miraculous ways to bring glory to His kingdom. “Christ calls us to serve his people in everything that we do, and philanthropy is nothing more than an act of service. SocialRest is made up of team members that are constantly stumbling toward the cross together, and our foundation is built upon accountability in business and in life,” says Brad. SocialRest exemplifies the values COBA instills in students, preparing them to go into the world with a missional mindset and determination to bring glory to Christ and his kingdom through all aspects of business and in life. SocialRest is looking for interns for the summer of 2014. If any students are interested in the internship, they can contact COBA’s career development team, Tim Johnston or Samantha Matta.
“COBA craft’s the vision of its students to understand the world for what it is, and to then take their own approach on how to achieve their goals. There is an underlying belief that life should be seen as an opportunity, challenges seen as the first step to growth, and success to be seen as a humble awareness of how magnificent our creator is,” says Brad Neathery, former ACU and COBA graduate.