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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. 

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.