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Dr. James Prather Spends Summer Consulting with iHeart Media

Dr. James Prather

We often hear of students gaining knowledge and experience through summer internships. What many students may not know is that faculty members often use the summer to hone their skills, learn knew information, conduct research, and work on projects. Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Dr. James Prather, led a research initiative at iHeartMedia to redesign one of the internal tools iHeart’s sales team uses, the Campaign Recap App.

Refining and redesigning the app was very important for the sales team so that they are able to show clients the value that advertising with iHeartMedia provides to them, at meetings which often happen at the end of an advertising campaign. Prather traveled to New York City, San Francisco, and San Antonio to interview the iHeartMedia sales teams, managers, and even top executives. In talking with each group, he learned what they needed the app to do, what clients expected from them, synthesized the dozens of hours of interviews and other data collected, and then created wireframe mock-ups of what the redesigned app should look like and what it should do.

The opportunity to work with iHeartMedia came about from a connection through the SITC Visiting Committee. Steve Mills, Chief Information Officer (CIO) of iHeartMedia, is a member of the SITC Visiting Committee. Mills, who has a Ph.D. in Computer Science, has another tie to ACU. Two of his children are ACU Alumni. He enjoys giving back to the university through both his academic and professional experience. On his last visit to ACU, Mills and Prather discussed consulting work with iHeart Media and Mills connected Prather with the right people inside the company. Four interviews later, Prather had a contract.

The consulting work gave Prather an opportunity to collaborate with a varied group of people in the company. He worked directly with account executives (sales), business analysts, programmers, the user experience design team, and marketing. He also had the unique opportunity to work with two interns, Jessica Wininger and Zachary Albrecht, who just happen to both be ACU/SITC students.

Prather said that one of the biggest surprises that he found while consulting at iHeartMedia is that, “The radio industry is far more complex than I ever anticipated. They don’t just sell radio ads, they sell digital streaming ads, website banner ads, social media campaigns, outdoor advertising, event and concert sponsorships, live events, and a lot more. But even just the broadcast radio portion is very complex in the way an ad goes from concept to being played on the air. There are so many moving parts, technology-wise, that it gets really complicated really fast. I now have a deep respect for these professionals that handle such a massive amount of data every day.”

Prather’s work at iHeartMedia will definitely be showing up in his classroom during the coming academic year. “I’ve got so many stories about working with users, translating requirements from business stakeholders, having discussions with upper management and more. It’s all directly relevant to the jobs that I’m training college students for. But not only does it make me a better professor in the classroom, I think it also brings credibility with students. I’m literally doing the thing I’m training them to do and they see that.”

Prather is known for bringing faith into the classroom and teaching students how to live out their faith in the workplace. He observed that people take notice when they find out you are a Christian. He said, “They watch you to see if you’ll actually walk the walk and not just talk the talk. And when they see that you actually follow Jesus, they start asking questions. I’ve had a lot of surprising faith conversations in just the three months of this summer. I’ve even done some pastoral counseling with a colleague. If I could have my students learn one thing about working it’s that people pay attention to what you say.”

To learn more about how Dr. James Prather combines faith and work, click here. To learn more about the School of Information Technology and Computing, click here.

Alumni Spotlight on Joseph Quigley (’13)

Since graduating with a degree in Computer Science in 2013, Joseph Quigley has never stopped learning. While he hasn’t earned additional degrees, he continues to learn through his day to day experience and his thirst for knowledge to hone his skills. Joseph currently works as an iOS Developer at Big Nerd Ranch, a consulting and tech education company for professionals and companies looking to sharpen their skills or improve their apps. Previously, Quigley worked as the tech lead for USAA’s virtual assistant project for 5 years, spending considerable time building both the iOS client and building the backend.

Photo by Asia Eidson, Photobyjoy

After graduating from ACU, one of the biggest surprises on entering the working world was the realization that, “I had to put in a lot of ‘extra curricular’ work in addition to my regular 40 hour work week to stay relevant. Most jobs after you graduate have you do lots of the same things and you become an expert in a narrow slice of your industry, while other jobs may have you be a jack of all trades and not give you time to specialize. It’s up to you to make up the difference, otherwise you risk being outsourced more easily.”

When asked how his faith has impacted his work, Joseph said, “ACU is a bubble of Christianity. When you leave

it, you are faced with a lot of pressure to do things unethically and unChristlike. I learned how to look at things ethically from a CS perspective and ethically from a Christ perspective. My faith is what helps me make the best possible decision when there’s no clear or easy right one.”

While at ACU, the faculty and staff shaped his future by creating a reputation about ACU students that helped Quigley find an excellent job after graduation. He said, “They (faculty and staff) always spoke highly of me and that reputation followed me to my first job. Many people at my first job had heard of me despite never having gone on a recruiting visit to ACU. I’m very grateful for how well COBA faculty and staff championed us students to employers who visited campus.”

While the ultimate outcome of college is a great job, most students most coveted time is spent having fun. Some of Joseph’s favorite ACU memories consist of playing LAN parties with classmates until 3 am in COBA, and private, semester-long, inside-joke persistent chat rooms for specific classes that made the professors smile when they caught glimpses of the puns or comics people drew about the course material.

Quigley says that both Dr. John Homer and Dr. Ray Pettit taught him some extremely important CS concepts by

Photo by Asia Eidson, Photobyjoy

using both fun projects and assignments. He actually picked their classes for two electives that were only offered every other year and weren’t the “popular” classes as these offerings allowed students to have small classes with more attention, help, and fun.

Joseph advises current students to take classes with as many professors as possible early on and then to try and take upper level classes with professors you click with. “This will not only help your GPA when things get harder but you’ll want a place of refuge from the craziness of all the other non-CS or IT classes.”

For prospective students, Quigley says , “Whichever school you pick, make sure you pick one where you can see that they care about you as a person, a student, and where you could see yourself becoming friends with the faculty. I’ve learned a lot about life from the faculty I’ve stayed in touch with since graduating and I’m honored to be friends with them. Oh, and compared to the three other colleges I visited, ACU faculty were the sharpest, friendliest, and coolest of all the schools.”

To learn more about the School of Information Technology and Computing, click here.

Student Spotlight: Adrianna Mott

Adrianna Mott

Digital Entertainment Technology

Adrianna Mott from Booneville, AR is a student who has shown real initiative when it comes to her education. Although this is only her first year at ACU, she is already a junior by hours thanks to a program which credited students at both the high school and college level.

Before entering high school, Adrianna knew she was interested in pursuing game design. While searching for colleges, ACU reached out and offered her a scholarship. When she visited the campus, she got to talk to professors in the department. The department had begun working with VR, which not many other colleges were doing. Adrianna knew that the courses ACU was offering would help in the pursuit of her passion.

One of those courses focuses on creating AR/VR in a variety of game engines. It teaches coding in game engines such as Unity, Unreal, and BabylonJS. This provided a challenge for Adrianna because she didn’t learn any coding languages before college. Thankfully, she took a course on Scripting her first semester. It introduced her to the fundamentals and helped in the preparation for more advanced classes. It wasn’t long before, she gained confidence in her ability to code.

Adrianna also gained experience when she participated in a Mechanical Engineering internship. It involved measuring machines and creating a 3D model of it using Autocad. She also worked as a tutor and a teachers assistant in the department. Lately, she has been working on advertising for DET, making videos for prospective students.

There is a variety of chapels across campus for students to participate in. One of Adrianna’s favorites is DET Chapel. It is a small group on campus that talks about ways they can connect with God through their work. She is also helping the DET Chapel group on a virtual reality church. She has created 3D models as well as conducted research on the impact the virtual church could have.

As a personal project, she is working on a VR educational game for kids. The concept is that users get to “walk through the alphabet.” They can interact with objects, see the letters, and hear the words. The hope is that this type of visual and auditory experience will help kids with different learning types. ACU is sponsoring her to conduct research on its effect. A few other students have pitched in to create trailers and splash screens for it.

When it comes to her faith, Adrianna enjoys the atmosphere that ACU provides. “It is a strong community. I have met so many like-minded friends.” She also appreciates the variety of worship opportunities such as Praise Day and DET Chapel, stating, “It is such a different atmosphere, but you are still connecting to God.” To learn more about ACU and is Digital Entertainment program, click here.

Student Spotlight: Drake Pamplin

Drake Pamplin (’19)

Digital Entertainment and Technology

Meet Drake Pamplin, a senior Digital Entertainment and Technology major from Abilene. Drake’s family has a strong legacy with ACU. In fact, his father, Dr. Kim Pamplin, is chair of the ACU Chemistry and Biochemistry department.

When asked about courses that he has really enjoyed, Drake says that the animation course whose curriculum was created by Bryon Caldwell, an industry animator, is at the top of the list. Caldwell’s course allows students to talk to and get opinions from a professional in the field. On the coding side, Drake has really benefited from classes such as Programming (one and two), which teaches C++, a core language that is close to old programming languages that most programs are based on. Game engines such as Unreal and Unity are based on C++ and C# (which is similar to C++).  Drake said, “You can’t make a game without writing code. Learning C++ was integral to my success.” Another course that is a favorite of Drake’s is Object Oriented Programming, which he believes will prove very useful in the field of game development as he moves into his professional career.

Drake is planning on working with USAA this summer in a software development internship. He will be working on developing and publishing software for their website. “If you are a DET student in your junior or senior year with a good GPA, then they (USAA) will want to talk to you.” When asked about the interview and recruitment process for the internship, Drake described it as “very natural”  saying that USAA came to campus and talked with interested students. Most students were then invited to dinner that evening where they could see how students interacted with their peers. The next day, USAA conducted a formal interview where they discussed technical skills with the interviewees.

During his time at ACU, Drake has worked on-campus as a tutor for classes such as Computer Organization and 3D Modeling. He also worked for Wildcat Central and now works at Wildcat Software, developing software for clients in the Abilene area. A recent Wildcat Software project had him working on updating a website for Rainbow Bible School. Drake is also involved in DET Club where he currently serves as the President of the game development section.

In his free time, Drake is working on many different projects including a recently completed game for Global Game Jam. He was approved for funding to get a Steam license and is now in the process of getting the game on Steam. Drake is also working on a survival style game stating that he has a tendency to stay busy with projects. “When I see a new thing I want to do, I start it, so I’ll have a hundred different projects open.”

ACU has taught Drake not only the skills to make it in the industry, but also the skills to integrate his faith into everyday life. “Not every job you do is going to be something divine, most jobs are going to seem pretty menial. However, here you learn how to make your work reflect your faith.” We wish Drake luck in his future endeavors and look forward to seeing his next completed project. To learn more about the DET program, click here.

 

3D Fence Model created by Drake Pamplin

3D Cushion Model created by Drake Pamplin

3D Glass Model created by Drake Pamplin

Student Spotlight: Kevin Shurtz

Kevin Shurtz(’19)

Computer Science and Political Science

Kevin Shurtz is a senior double majoring in Computer Science and Political Science from Southlake, Texas.

Some of Kevin’s favorite classes have been Operating Systems, Programming Languages, Philosophy Religion, and Science as well as Theory of Computation. Kevin says, “Theory of Computation with Dr. Homer is one of the best classes offered by the University.” The class introduces some of the academic thought and literature that underlies a lot of the advancements in the field of Computer Science. From that class, Kevin learned about finite state machines, regular expressions, multiple categories of languages, and limits of computability. Kevin explained that the class touched on subjects that exceed the scope of vocational purpose, stating, “I don’t think I could have gotten that knowledge outside the context of college.” Kevin said that the class really frames the limits of the field, which is valuable in students’ holistic intellectual growth.

Kevin has been very involved in and out of SITC. Describing tutoring as a great job opportunity for students, Kevin tutored for Computer Organization, as well as Object Oriented Programming. Kevin has also served as the President of ACU’s chapter of ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) and as the Chief Financial Officer for ACU Student Government.

Kevin has completed two internships while at ACU. During his sophomore year, he interned at Faithlife as a software developer on their platform team writing in C#. The next year Kevin interned at USAA on their Enterprise Data Insights team. His team was responsible for making back end java services that would be deployed in containers to a new deployment platform. While there, Kevin worked with Python and participated in a coding competition to help learn how to use Angular. Kevin plans to work for USAA following his graduation this May.

In his free time, Kevin has a few projects that he is working on the first of which is a React tutorial. For ACU student government, he has a few projects in the research phase one of which involves improving the system of recycling around campus. The group wants add Amazon IOT buttons to each recycling bin, so that the bins don’t have to be constantly checked unless they are actually full. Another project is tailored towards improving the student election system. They are currently trying to set up a resource group and back end solutions.

One of Kevin’s favorite aspects of attending ACU is the relationships that you can build with professors. He says, “The professors aren’t just here to teach technical skills, they are here to help you grow on a personal level”. Kevin really respects the faculty, how well versed they are in the Bible and their diverse experiences with their own faith. He says that being able to interact with the faculty throughout the last four years has been incredibly valuable for his own faith. Congratulations to Kevin on his graduation and future work. To learn more about the Computer Science program, click here.

Student Spotlight: Wyatt Witemeyer

Wyatt Witemeyer

Class of ’22

Wyatt Witemeyer is a freshman with majors in computer science and math from Abilene. He started learning to code in high school, but first learned C++ while taking Programming I and Programming II with Dr. Homer which soon became some of his favorite classes, not only for the subject matter but also for the relationship he developed with Dr. Homer. “Dr. Homer’s dry humor makes me laugh. The joke often ties back into the lesson, making the class more interactive and fun.” These classes teach students how to think like a programmer, which has helped Wyatt with his problem-solving and communication skills. “The computer will do exactly what you tell you to do. So, it’s a matter of being able to lay out those instructions is a clear and concise manner.”

Despite this being his first year on campus, Wyatt has already become a tutor for Programming I, a class he enjoyed and further sparked his interest in computer science. He sees this a good opportunity to help others as while also building relationships. He also attends department chapels including 3:16 Chapel, where he enjoys continuing getting to know his professors on a deeper level and engaging in scripture with them. He is also involved in ACU’s E-sports team for Hearthstone.

In his free time, Wyatt enjoys hanging out and playing video games with friends, including a game he designed and wrote himself. His game is about five years in the making and he has been slowly adding to it since he first learned how to code in high school. Wyatt described it as a role-playing adventure game similar to Dungeon and Dragons, but without dice. However, just because it’s functional now, doesn’t mean he’s done improving it. “As I learn more about programming, I am applying it to the game,” said Wyatt. He uses the game as an opportunity to apply what he is learning in school to something he is passionate about outside the classroom and the more he learns, the more he is able to improve the game.

Wyatt chose ACU because he loves Abilene and is very close to his family. Not only do both his parents work at ACU but his older sister, Bethany, is also a student in the SITC department. “The opportunities that ACU offers are amazing. It’s a local Christian School and my family is here, so I couldn’t say no.” Wyatt has had a great experience in his freshman year and looks forward to growing in knowledge, skills, and relationships as well as experiencing as much as ACU has to offer in the next few years.