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Alumni Spotlight on Morgan Davis (’11)

Morgan Davis (’11)

Morgan Davis (’11) graduated from Abilene Christian University with a degree in Information Technology and furthered his education with a master’s degree in Interactive Technology. He started his professional career in Ziosk working as a designer for their zTrivia game and then joined the Gamestop team to revamp the user experience of their performance dashboards for all stores. Today, Morgan works as a Level Designer at Gearbox Software, LLC. 

Faith has always been the foundation for everything that Morgan does and has impacted the way in which he sees his purpose in his work. When asked to describe the impact faith has in his work, Morgan replied, “It keeps me centered on what really matters. It is very easy to get lost in work, enjoying the fruits of labor, and seeking out more opportunities to expand and grow in business. But truthfully, while those things are very good and worth pursuing, there is still a draw to something more. Adding faith to the picture means I don’t forfeit my relationship with my God to spend extra time pursuing work. It means, the relationships I make at work are hearts to hopefully plant seeds and let God grow them. It means that no matter how much I achieve here in this place, He is still wanting to transform me as we journey into the next place.” 

Morgan has clearly found purpose in his work and sees it as a platform to reach people for the Lord’s kingdom. This mindset was supported by several experiences that he had during his time at ACU that allowed him to grow in his faith. Morgan said, “ACU was a great place to grow spiritually, while also pursuing educational achievements. There are countless resources ACU has for those that intend to use them. And by resources, I mean professors that take time outside of class to answer questions of faith and other subjects. Or the Quiet Place – a great area to get away from the busyness of classes and social pressure. The relationships I had with my closest friends were also something that shaped my future. I would even say that the conversations had with other Christians were a major resource, even conversations with those that had many doubts.” These resources, as Morgan calls them, were pivotal to his relationship with God and the foundation that he was building for the future. Morgan said that all of these experiences, “helped me in my understanding of God and what it means to be a disciple. I could go on and on about the community ACU fosters, or the many ways to serve on campus, like Reslife, which I was a part of for two years.”

Morgan and his wife, Abigail Davis

His favorite memory from his time at ACU might be surprising. “Being cartoonist for The Optimist came with a lot of good memories. My favorite was when I got the chance to make a colored cartoon for the paper, labeled, ‘Where’s Royce?’. It was a spin-off of ‘Where’s Waldo?’ as a means to highlight Dr. Royce Money’s new adventures as Chancellor after serving as President. Later, I was able to expand this cartoon into a poster that I sold as a fundraiser for my spring break campaign.” Morgan was always involved on campus and present in the community. His experience at ACU allowed him to encourage prospective students to consider attending our university as well, to which he says “Go to ACU! The amount of history and potential for new stories to be made at ACU is enormous. It’s the perfect size to make friends in all sorts of communities. And like I said, if you want to grow spiritually on top of earning an education, then look no further.” 

Finally, Davis encourages incoming freshmen, “Take advantage of every opportunity you get. Don’t let school get in the way of relationships, and don’t let relationships get in the way of school. Seek out places or people that might challenge your normal way of thinking. Don’t make too many plans ahead, and go with the flow.”

Student Spotlight: Andrea Perez

Andrea Perez, Senior Information Technology major

Meet Andrea Perez, a senior Information Technology major from Houston, Texas. After her first visit to ACU, Andrea fell in love with the community and welcoming environment of the campus. She said, “I knew that I wanted a small, yet big campus, where I was considered a heart and not a number” and while walking on the campus, she knew that it was the place for her. 

While at ACU, Andrea has been involved in the women’s social club Tri Kappa Gamma, Women in Technology and the College of Business Administration the recruitment office. Some of her favorite memories from college are a result of her connection on campus and her constant pursuit of community. Andrea said that her favorite memory at ACU was, “Participating in Sing Song 2018 with Tri Kappa Gamma. It created many opportunities for me to get to know my sisters better and bond throughout the process. The competitive mentality throughout Sing Song with my friends in other social clubs was also very fun to experience.” From participating in one of the most beloved traditions of our university, Andrea never lost sight of her academic goals and decided to take advantage of all of the opportunities that her department provided. 

Andrea with Professor St. John

Andrea shared that her department has well prepared her for the future by providing her with opportunities to take courses that taught her many computer languages that she will use throughout her career. While studying different aspects of information technology, she appreciated her course in Systems Integration and Administration where she learned how to write unattended scripts. Even though her coursework and academic development has been a big part of her success at ACU, she rejoices in the relationships built with professors from her department. When asked about one of her most impactful moments at ACU, she said, “One of my most life-changing moments at ACU has been spring semester of my junior year, when I became like a daughter to Dr. Byrd. When I first met him freshman year, I was extremely intimidated but as time went on with taking his classes, I looked up to him. He was very caring and honest. Dr. Byrd gave me much life and career advice that I will cherish forever.” Even though Dr. Byrd retired at the end of this last academic year, Andrea will hold on to the words of this role-model and continue to use his advice as she begins a professional career. She also appreciated Professor Karen St. John who she described not only as welcoming and loving, but as a long lost family member that helped her grow and has taken her under her wing. 

Dr. Byrd, professor and mentor to Andrea, with his students.

Today, Andrea works as a student ambassador helping prospective students with their transition to college. She shares with them how ACU is an amazing Christ-centered institution with student organizations that help students find right where they belong. Andrea says that ACU, “Is also a campus where it is small enough to feel like a family yet big enough to meet somebody new every day.” Andrea will graduate in May 2020, and is looking forward to all the opportunities that she will have as a professional who has been prepared for a career, the real-world, and her future. 

Students Inspired by Industry Giants Conference

Image result for industry giants 2019

Industry Giants 2019

Since 2002, Industry Giants has been the premiere Texas animation, game development, and computer graphics conference bringing together the leading talent in the industry. From concept artists for games and films, to visual effect developers, there is a professional from every field within the gaming industry sharing their story and work at this event. The conference gives attendees the opportunity to hear directly from talented artists that are using their skills to successfully produce all the components of award-winning films and games of the year. ACU has been a sponsor of the Industry Giants event for years, which is a win-win for faculty and students as they hope to continue the partnership and inspire students for years to come. Additionally, SITC believes that developing students and faculty is important in keeping up with cutting edge technology and practices. Professor Rich Tanner took a group of nine students to experience everything this gathering had to offer. 

DET students and Professor Rich Tanner in Dallas for the Industry Giants conference.

During the conference, students had the opportunity to hear presentations from industry leaders, talk to a number of professionals about job opportunities, and have their portfolios reviewed by those professionals. Tanner said, “Students were able to hear from some talented presenters who shared their own stories on how they got into the competitive industries, what inspired them, what challenges they faced, and advice on how to build skills, get noticed, and get their foot in the door.” These stories definitely encouraged one of ACU’s DET majors, Jael Morel, who thought that it was very inspiring to see women in technology who encountered obstacles in the industry and learned how to overcome them. As an international student, Jael said that listening to professionals who have walked the same journey that she is currently navigating gave her hope and motivated her to pursue her passions. Grace Liu, a concept artist that came to the US as a student and is now the principal artist at Airship Syndicate, provided Jael with insight of how far she could go with her degree. She advises students to, “Be bold. Take advantage of the opportunities that are provided by ACU, and work hard outside the classroom to be better at what you do.”

Camila Rodrigues, DET major and art minor, found several speakers to be uplifting and received beneficial information from their presentations. She said that opportunities like these, “Help me network with organizations that offer internships and allow me to get a foot in the door of companies where I might like to work.” The presentations for the conference were both informational and inspirational because they were given by leaders in the industry who have worked their way up the ranks of their profession, just like current students hope to do. Professor Tanner commented on how valuable the speakers were, “We heard from game designers, PIXAR animators, special effects wizards, and a classic Disney animator and director.  The body of work represented in the presenters covered sentimental favorites from everyone’s childhood. Every one of the SITC students (and professors) who attended were both inspired and challenged to dream bigger and try harder.” From the insight and feedback that SITC students gained from this conference, Tanner hopes that more technology students will be encouraged to join the group for the Industry Giants conference next year. Learn more about Industry Giants by clicking here.

DET Program Earns Membership of the Unity Academic Alliance

We are part of an ever-changing, high-tech arena. The world is evolving with technology advancements that seem to develop at a higher rate of speed than ever before. ACU’s Digital Entertainment Technology (DET) program is focused on preparing Christian professionals to enter this competitive industry with all the necessary skills and tools under their belt to be successful in this fast-paced environment. For this reason, the faculty has implemented various training programs for technology students to become familiar with Adobe Software, Premiere Pro, and Unity game engine. The result of these efforts has allowed the DET program to earn top ranking on The Princeton Review’s list of top 50 undergraduate schools to study game design in 2019 for the fourth time. In order to keep the ranking and grow as a cutting-edge program, the SITC faculty and staff are always on the look-out for the best resources to provide to their students. 

One of the training programs that faculty have focused on in the last year is the cross-platform game engine, Unity. According to job market analytics platform, Burning Glass, “Tech professionals who have Unity skills earn over $20,000 more than their peers without Unity skills” and a Unity Developer is ranked #7 on LinkedIn’s list of Top 20 Emerging Jobs. Knowing the value of these skills, the program implemented Unity certifications in DET courses and, as a result, 95% of students in the Game Engines course gained Unity certifications last year. 

In 2018, the cross-platform game engine created the Unity Academic Alliance as an effort to offer higher-education institutions the opportunity to expand their technology programs. Knowing that as a member of the Unity Academic Alliance ACU would be formally recognized as a leader in cutting-edge Unity education, the leaders of the School of Information Technology and Computing decided to jump right into the opportunity. Professor Brian Burton shared his thoughts on the membership by saying, “We felt like it was important to offer these outside certifications because it speaks of the quality of the program and we wanted to be the charter members of the alliance.” 

This membership not only speaks to the quality of the program, but it provides every student with a vast range of opportunities and resources to equip them for the future. Among the many benefits that members receive, Unity has listed the following as the main reasons to gain membership: networking of academic and industry partners, educator professional development, student professional development, formal recognition, support and guidance. This means that students will be able to join Unity’s Global Student Ambassador Program, be part of conferences, student competitions, and gain valuable training that is consistent with the needs of the industry.

With over 15,000 jobs currently open on Indeed.com looking for professionals with Unity skills, this membership will be of great value to students, the department, and community. 

Alumni Spotlight on Carlos Velasquez (’18)

Carlos Velasquez (’18)

In the School of Information Technology and Computing, our mission is to educate students in technology-related fields for Christian service and leadership throughout the world. Carlos Velasquez (‘18) exemplifies this mission every day. After graduating with a degree in Digital Entertainment Technology in 2018, Carlos began his career teaching autistic adults how to code in C# at nonPareil. His desire to serve God in the workplace continued to grow as he pursued a position at a Christian radio station where he could merge his work and faith. Carlos currently works as a C# Developer in the Education Media Foundation, a non-profit organization that operates radio networks broadcasting contemporary Christian music. When asked about the impact faith has in his work, Carlos said that he loved to work in a place where he could combine his professional skills with his beliefs. 

Shortly after graduation, Carlos entered the working world and was surprised by the budget and expense management that recent graduates often struggle with. Overwhelmed by the responsibilities that came along with this new chapter of his life, he asked himself, “Am I working to live or am I living to work?” As that’s a question that many professionals run into at one point in their career, we asked Carlos how he responded to this situation. “I want to live to work. I love what I do so much that I look forward to work.” Our hope at the School of Information Technology and Computing is that every student finds a calling in their workplace that gives them an experience like the one Carlos is currently having, where he is passionately serving the Lord through his career. 

At ACU, community is one of the essential parts of every student’s college experience. Our community focuses on connecting students, faculty, staff, and alumni through valuable experiences. Carlos still cherishes his memories from college with his friends. “My favorite ACU memory involves an unofficial game of ‘Murder in the Dark’ in the COBA building. Every Saturday a group of friends would turn off all lights in COBA and play the game.” Carlos built valuable relationships with his classmates, but he also had the opportunity to have professors that consistently challenged him and encouraged him to pursue his dreams. When asked about his favorite professors on campus, he shared, “I don’t have a favorite but I do respect both Dr. Brian Burton & Rich Tanner immensely. Dr. Burton’s classes would frequently instill a hunger for learning and progressing which I was very appreciative of. Rich Tanner’s classes involved learning and utilizing technologies that I was very interested in. It was always fun learning with Rich because his persona was easy going.”

Carlos advises current students to listen to advice that their professors give. When he was completing his undergraduate degree, he clearly remembers how Dr. Burton and Rich Tanner always told him, “It’s not what you do in school that will get you your desired job, it’s the effort and dedication you put in after hours.” It was not until he graduated from ACU and resigned from his first position outside of college that he had the opportunity to help his former boss look at resumes for his replacement, noticing how employers are especially impressed by the skills and work experience of the applicant. “If you put a skill on your resume, there should be some form of proof that you actually have the skills mentioned.” He encourages incoming freshmen to remember that, “Freshman year is very important in regards to the rest of your college life. Personally, I like to start strong and work to maintain quality. Starting from zero and building up is very risky and can be stressful, so start strong and college life will be so much easier.”

Finally, Carlos told us that he loved his time at ACU and hopes that his children have the same opportunity in the future. He will always thank his Alma Mater for providing great learning resources and allowing him to explore different areas of study. “When I first arrived, I didn’t know I loved programming, but the option to take a programming class got me to where I am today.” Today, Carlos is a full-time programmer in Rocklin, California and is happy to know that he is right where he’s supposed to be.