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The Graduating Class of 2018 Gives Advice to Incoming Freshmen

Graduation is nearing and it’s the time of year we sadly bid adieu to our graduating seniors. We are proud of their accomplishments and we’d like to introduce you to a few of them on this blog, letting you know how their time at ACU has molded them, where they are headed after graduation, and what advice they have to the new freshmen class coming in the fall. 

 

Darius Bell, Computer Science major from Frisco, Texas

After graduation, I am moving to Indianapolis, Indiana to work as an Associate Software Developer for a company called Infosys. I am mostly excited about the new adventure set before me along with its challenges.

My favorite memory at ACU was during the spring semester of my sophomore year. My friends and I would go to Lake Fort Phantom and have bonfires on Friday nights.

My favorite class was the Digital Photography Course with Nil Santana. Photography is a hobby of mine and getting a chance to expound upon that hobby has been really fun.

Advice I would give to freshmen would be two things. The first is that they should make the most of their opportunities with their professors. Go to the professor’s office, attend their tutoring sessions, ask all the questions – even the dumb ones…okay, not all of the dumb ones, but you get the point. Maximize your learning potential. The second piece of advice I’d give is that God can be found anywhere. It doesn’t take a private Christian university for one to find him, just seek and you will find. That being said, it is really easy to get comfortable and complacent in this Christian environment and if one is not careful, you might miss the chance to experience genuine relationship and community while you’re here. Be alert and ever seeking His face.

 

Alani Peters, Computer Science major from Montgomery, Texas

I will be a Software Developer for USAA in Plano, Tx. I am excited to apply all that I have learned in my four years here at ACU & for no more homework.

My favorite experience at ACU would be Study Abroad. I went to Leipzig, Germany and absolutely loved being immersed in the culture.

My favorite class was HCI 1 and/or 2 (Human Computer Interaction). These classes gave me a passion for HCI and lead to me doing research in this field of work.

I would advise freshmen to get to know the people around them. Whether it is in the dorms or in classes, the people you surround yourself with is so important and will have such an impact on your time at ACU and in the future.

 

Isaak Ramirez, Computer Science major from El Paso, Texas

I’m moving to Denton, TX to begin my exciting job as a Software Support Analyst with a company called Austin Lane Technologies. I am extremely excited to be able to be completely self-sufficient! Also, being able to afford an apartment that I can have to myself sounds amazing.

I have had so many fond memories with the people I have met at ACU, that it is basically impossible to just pick one. Meeting my SITC friends at the DeLano house was definitely a staple of my ACU experience.

Dr. Homer’s Algorithms class was one of the most challenging classes I have ever taken, but it was extremely educational. While I may have not always “enjoyed” doing several weekly homework assignments, I am able to look back at the class fondly.

For any freshman, do not be afraid to ask for help, especially at a place like ACU. Many of your professors and classmates are very willing to help you through any problem you may be facing!

 

John Wolfe, Information Technology major from The Woodlands, Texas

I’m currently interviewing with a few companies and am hopeful that I will have a job soon! I am most excited about having no more homework.

My favorite memory of ACU is actually about to happen: graduation.

My favorite class at ACU was Intro to Philosophy with Randy Harris. It was the most enlightening course that has helped me in my walk with Christ.

My advice to incoming freshmen would be to find your passion as soon as possible. Once you do, you’ll want to do nothing but strive towards the dream.

 

Congratulations to the class of 2018! As Minor Meyers said, “Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.”

ACU SIGCHI Chapter Presents at CHI Conference 2018

CHI 2018 is a “Special Interest Group in Computer-Human Interaction” conference and the premier international conference for scholarly research and prototype demonstrations for cutting edge interactive technology. It is sponsored by the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery), the primary guild for technology professionals and academics. The conference focuses on the ways in which humans interact with computers and what we can learn from that to design better and more natural user interfaces. This ranges from video game design, to security, to the latest in wearable tech, to years-long observation and interviews in the field about how people use computers, and everything in between.

The ACU SIGCHI Team of Presenters

A group of ACU SIGCHI Club studnents presented research they have worked on this school year at the conference. Dr. James Prather, the sponsor of the club and the Human Computer Interaction professor said “For the students at the conference, the most important takeaway was realizing how valuable their research is. When they would explain their research to an interested person, most of the students were asked which graduate school they attended. I think that speaks volumes to the education they’re receiving at ACU SITC. I think many of the students saw that yes, they can compete at that next level.”

Prather also says that many of the students are now considering graduate school, something that had not previously considered, because of all the positive feedback that they received at the conference. Everyone seeing such a breadth and depth of amazing research, he says, really invigorated their interest in pursuing academics further.

When asked what he hopes for the future of students who will be involved in this conference, Prather said, “First of all, I hope that our alumni who have gone on this trip will continue to go as professionals interested in learning about the very latest user interaction and design technologies in the field. I think it will make the companies that they work for more competitive in the field. All the big names in tech (Google, Microsoft, IBM, etc) were there, promoting their companies, showing off their prototype gadgets, or presenting research papers. But I also hope that each year we can submit to the Student Research Competition so that future students can have the same opportunity to attend such a top-tier technology conference.”

We asked students who attended the conference to answer a few questions for us and we thought you’d find each of their comments interesting.

What was the highlight of the conference?

  • Isaak Ramirez: “Being surrounded by extremely intelligent people at all times was a little bit intimidating at first, but as the conference progressed, I felt very honored to be in the presence of many great minds.”
  • Collin Blanchard: “My highlight was honestly the entire experience. I really enjoyed getting to learn about other people’s passions and getting excited with them.”
  • Alani Peters: “Oh, this is really hard!! I loved the huge demo they held one evening! It was a huge conference center filled with all of the prototypes of the research people were presenting. We were able to interact with all of the amazing projects people have been working on and learning about at the conference.”
  • Gideon Luck: “For me it would be hard to narrow down a single highlight. Presenting our paper and talking to and meeting other presenters in the Student Research Competition might be it, though. I also enjoyed many of the paper presentations that I attended and getting to meet with these paper presenters and further discuss their work. Some standouts were in the session about privacy and online data that I attended.”

Tell us about the experience of presenting your research at the conference.

  • Isaak Ramirez: “Our team has spent a lot of time on this research, so being able to talk about what our team was able to do was almost second nature to me.”
  • Collin Blanchard: “It was really cool to present our work to other people and get insights from them on how we can improve. I liked getting them interested in what we did.”
  • Alani Peters: It was so cool! Although I was not the one to officially present, it was amazing being able to tell other researchers about the work we are doing and answer any questions they have about it.”
  • Gideon Luck: “It was awesome. I was so nervous before the conference and before Monday. By Monday morning when the poster session took place, I had practiced the script and was ready to go. The actual presenting to the judges went great, but unfortunately we didn’t move on to the second round of the contest. I had the chance to explain our research and present our poster in the expo hall many times throughout the week and it was fantastic. So many people had questions and feedback and seemed so interested in what we had done. It felt good to have all our hard work validated by others in our field.”

What did you learn from this whole process, beginning with compiling your research in the SIGCHI club to going to Canada to present?

  • Isaak Ramirez: More than anything else, I feel like I have learned what it means to be a part of a research team. From late weekly meetings to sharing an Airbnb, our research team has spent a large amount of time together, but it has only improved our ability to work together.”
  • Collin Blanchard: I learned just how much work there is in getting research done to present on a large scale like this. It puts all of the presentations in context with just how much they had to do to get here, too.”
  • Alani Peters: I learned how significant the work we are doing truly is. Our research has been published and is available to companies and to other researchers to further technology and the way we interact with technology.”
  • Gideon Luck: I learned a lot about so many things: The IRB process to get research approved, the process of writing a paper in specific conference format and then submitting that. It was a lot of work for our whole team, but in the end, it was worth it, because it gave us the opportunity to attend the conference and see so many new things.”

Did this experience make you want to engage in more research at school or post-grad? Why or why not?

  • Isaak Ramirez: This experience absolutely made me want to engage in more research post-grad. Even if I was only able to reconnect with my ACU friends, it would be worth it to me.”
  • Collin Blanchard: I would like to continue research at some point, but it will be hard to continue going into industry. I will definitely continue going to the conference each year though.”
  • Alani Peters: Absolutely! I had forgotten how much I love research during the past year and this conference sparked that again for me. I am planning on participating in research in the future, especially if I go to grad school. Research is paving the way for technology and it was amazing seeing what huge organizations like Facebook and IBM Research are up to.
  • Gideon Luck: “Absolutely, I would say that before this conference I was on the fence about continuing my education and doing research at the postgraduate level. Seeing the diversity of topics being researched in this field totally sold me on the idea of going back to school later on to do more research and learn more about the field of HCI.”

Dr. James Prather, Gideon Luck, Alani Peters, and Jessica Wininger

How are you hoping to apply what you have learned about Human Computer Interaction in the future?

  • Isaak Ramirez: Through this conference and the HCI classes I’ve had at ACU, I’m confident that I would be able to apply my skills in a future career. While my upcoming job does not explicitly call for a knowledge of HCI necessarily, having a base understanding in the fundamentals certainly helps in any software-related field.”
  • Collin Blanchard: At the very least, I hope to incorporate good design principles in my work. Hopefully I will be able to incorporate some of the things I learned from the paper sessions as well. One of the sessions I enjoyed the most was about chatbots and how to use them for good, so I would like to incorporate that into my work at some point.”
  • Alani Peters: I hope to apply these HCI concepts in my job that I am starting in June!”
  • Gideon Luck: “Honestly, I am just excited about the potential for building on my team’s research and the other work in this field in the future. I am also excited to see where our project for this semester is able to go, since we are planning to submit it to the regular conference proceedings for next year.”

SITC Students Start SIGCHI Chapter On Campus

One of the classes offered in the School of Information Technology and Computing is called CS 330: Human-Computer Interaction, a subject that has sparked much interest because of the intriguing and applicable content. Human-Computer Interaction is a combination of computer science, digital media, psychology, and neuroscience. Dr. James Prather, the professor for the class, sums it up by saying, “It’s about understanding how humans perceive and interact with the world and using that knowledge to make better and more natural user interfaces for our technology.” Although there are two upper-level electives on this topic, HCI 1 and HCI 2, many students end up wanting to learn more about the subject and further their training. Thus, an ACU SIGCHI chapter was born.

SIGCHI at the 2018 ACU Undergraduate Research Festival

SIGCHI stands for “Special Interest Group in Human-Computer Interaction” and has more than forty active local chapters across six continents, to promote local support networks for HCI professionals. The ACU club is a chapter of ACM SIGCHI which is the major guild for both students, instructors, and professionals interested in the subject of Human-Computer Interaction. Once the chapter was established, the students elected officers and started working on a research project to submit at the annual SIGCHI conference, this year taking place in Montreal, Canada. Dr. Prather is the club’s faculty sponsor and research mentor.

Dr. James Prather, sponsor for SIGCHI and this year’s STEM Mentor of the Year

The ACU group chose two research topics of which one is in progress and the other has been published. The paper that was submitted for publication was on the topic of research showing that high-anxiety students who receive encouragement via social media before an exam can perform at the level of low-anxiety students, with a strong correlation between the number of encouraging messages received and the increase in performance. After the students of SIGCHI read this, they started brainstorming ideas to see if there was a difference between actual human encouragement or a bot sending anxious students the same messages. During the Fall 2017 semester, students submitted a proposal to the Institutional Review Board which was approved to conduct an experiment on a class of approximately 40 participating students. All participants were sent encouraging messages via Twitter bots, but only half the class was made aware of this (experimental group), while the other half thought the messages were coming from real people (control group). After comparing the control and experimental groups, they learned that there was indeed a difference: those who thought the encouragement came from humans were more encouraged than those who knew the encouragement was autogenerated. They then analyzed the data and wrote a research paper, submitting it to the SIGCHI student research competition. After going through a peer-reviewed process, they learned that their paper was accepted and published

Gideon Luck, Holly Buff, Collin Blanchard, and Raquel Dottle presenting their research presentation titled “Print (“Good Luck!”): Measuring the Effect of Autogenerated Social Encouragement on Student Anxiety”

 

After this great success the students are planning to go to CHI 2018, the premiere international conference of Human-Computer Interaction which will be held in Montreal, Canada, in order to present their work and try to win the student research competition. This conference is a place where all those researching or working within the field of HCI gather and discuss the latest in interactive technology which includes not only social media, but aspects such as virtual reality, augmented reality, usable security, interaction and play, and even medical technology. This is not only a fantastic academic opportunity for our ACU SIGCHI students but a wonderful professional opportunity as well, as students will be able to put this conference on their resume, impressing grad schools and employers alike. This is also a great reflection on the kinds of opportunities students can expect to have at ACU’s School of Information Technology and Computing, including faculty mentorship, undergraduate research, and presenting research at premier international conferences. The most recent student to enter into an ACM undergraduate research competition was Kayla (Holcomb ’17) McMurry, who won first place in 2016.

The students in the SIGCHI group going to Montreal are: Collin Blanchard, Holly Buff, Travis Cook, Raquel Dottle, Gideon Luck, Alani Peters, Virginia Pettit, Isaak Ramirez, and Jessica Wininger. If you would like to make a donation to SIGCHI Research, please go to this link, choose “Other” as your designation and write in “SITC SIGCHI”. Keep reading future blogs to learn how our group does in April.

Virtual Reality in the ACU Classroom

From selling goggles at big box retailers to immersive experiences in theme parks and malls to practical use in medicine, virtual reality has become a quickly expanding technological frontier. Our professors, especially those involved with the Digital Entertainment Technology program, are making sure that ACU students are on the cutting edge of this technology. Our students are learning to simulate a virtual space while tracking real-life movements by using special goggles and sensors. Professors Rich Tanner and Brian Burton have opted to use SteamVR Home Environment, a resource associated with a streaming gaming service called Steam, to enable students to gain experience with creating virtual spaces and interacting with virtual reality in ways they otherwise could not. SteamVR Home allows the students to create virtual spaces that can be published and shared and is accessible to the general public by downloading their software.

Students work to perfect their virtual reality spaces simulating the ACU campus.

The Game Development (DET 350) class has given students the tools and opportunities to learn more about creating in the virtual reality space. The class was split into four teams and each team was assigned a space on the ACU campus to model in the virtual reality program. To create these, each room, as well as each object in the room, was measured in order to create an exact replica using 3D modeling. Once the physical space and objects were modeled, students added texture, colors and patterns, and other details so that each space looked as realistic as possible. After the modeling was completed, the 3D objects were imported and placed in the simulated environment.

Matthew Middlebrook, a sophomore DET major, is one of the students in Game Development and participated in the project. Matthew acknowledged that “while this VR project was a lot of work, it strengthened my love for 3D modeling and made me interested in the different applications that VR may have now and in the future.” Matthew’s favorite part of the project – and the part he is most proud of – was creating different textures, especially in the COBA Atrium. “I went into this project with almost no knowledge of textures,” he said. For example, when Matthew first attempted to import his models, the entire COBA Atrium came out white. “I was able to learn quickly and am sure that if I continued looking up tutorials, I could get even better.” This project also taught Matthew to not spend too much time working on little details that could lead to running out of time. “Being the perfectionist I am, it was difficult to not do everything and the way the project worked made it hard to see the progress of my other team members but ultimately it came together nicely.”Even though working on a team-based project like this one can be difficult, the students learned a lot. Nevan Simone, a senior computer science major, said: “I saw once again how valuable it is to have diverse skill-sets within a single team”.

The DET program is teaching students how to create virtual reality spaces because the technical skills learned fundamental for finishing the program and prepares them for the future. You can learn more about this project by watching this video. SteamVR allows students learn to create a large virtual reality project in a hands-on way. The work that ACU students have done has been viewed hundreds of times on the platform and the spaces they have created can be seen by clicking here. We encourage you to check out the awesome things our talented students are working so hard to create.

 

A New Kind of Capstone

“What is a capstone class?” you may ask. “In addition to other discipline-related course goals, the senior-year integrative capstone experience will challenge the student to critically analyze, reflect, and write about the major discipline from the perspective of Christian Worldview.” (Liberal Arts Core Curriculum at ACU, p. 6). In other words, it is the culmination of a student’s classroom and experiential learning experiences during their time in college. James Prather, instructor of Computer Science, created the new capstone class CS 480: Capstone Reflections on Faith and Work, for the School of Information Technology and Computing, joining the two worlds of technology and Christianity together.

James Prather

Prather holds degrees not only in Computer Science but has also earned masters degrees in Divinity and the Old Testament. The class was created to help students bridge the gap between leaving college and starting the rest of their lives. Many issues are tackled in this class such as faith and vocation, asking students questions such as, “What does it mean to be a Christian in the workplace?”. Other topics dealing with post-college life are also covered in the class such as workplace culture, church, friends, dealing with a toxic workplace and/or toxic coworkers, when to make a job change, relationships, budgeting, procrastination, grad school, and more. Prather leads these discussions with the students and also guides them through a book about spiritual disciplines, asking the students to practice a spiritual discipline each week and then write a short reflection on that experience. Prather says this is an attempt to hand students the practical tools to practice their faith not only at church but anywhere they may be: in a cubicle, on their daily commute, during their lunch break, at the gym, at home in the evening, etc.

Cole Spears with Dr. Brent Reeves

Students are asked to write two case studies that consider the ethical implications of technology on humans created in the image of God. To wrap up the course, students are asked to write a personal theology of work, helping them to synthesize the entire semester into a personal statement of what it means to be a Christian in the technology workplace. Students are also asked to make a personal portfolio which helps them look back on the past four years and see what they have done, where they have been and who they have met along the way. Cole Spears, Computer Science major from Abilene, said this has helped him realize “While it may not seem that a career as a Software Developer intersects with the life of a ministry for Jesus, there are in fact many ways I can lead a life for Christ. Simply, in my everyday interactions, I can have the peace, joy, and love of Christ throughout all of my interactions with coworkers, management, and clients. Through just being an extension of Christ, a branch from the vine, to others, I will be able to share the love of Jesus with us.”