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.
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.
Holt Herndon is a senior computer science major from Abilene, Texas. This past summer, Holt had an internship with USAA and will be working for them after graduation. We asked Holt a few questions about his time at ACU.
Q: How has your education and experiences at ACU, especially in your department, prepared you for the future?
A: The experience that prepared me the most was probably my internship. This summer, I interned at USAA in Plano. During my internship, I did Java programming for a test suite. Along with that, I worked along with some of the senior developers on the team to assist in looking into some of the future software that would be used at USAA. I really enjoyed dealing with enterprise-grade software and systems. It was an incredible learning experience for me, and I highly recommend it. My internship also helped me receive an offer for a full-time job which I’ll be starting in January, which definitely helps with preparing a future.
Q: What was your favorite class in your department?
A: That’s a tough question. It would be between Operating Systems (CS 356) and Computer Organization (CS 220). I enjoyed both of them for very similar reasons. Both classes got deep into how a computer works in its more primal form. Learning about computers at such a concentrated level helped me understand and learn how to write programs that are much more efficient.
Q: Who was your favorite professor and why?
A: James Prather was my favorite professor. He does a great job of explaining things in simple terms, his assignments were very hands-on which helped me learn, and I enjoy being around him.
Q: If you could talk to a prospective student considering coming to ACU, why would you tell them to choose ACU?
A: I would tell them to come to ACU for the education they will receive. I really enjoyed my computer science professors. In all my classes, I learned something new and useful that furthered my career in programming. All my professors knew me by name and were always willing to help me achieve my goals, which isn’t something that is guaranteed at other schools.
In May, ACU’s SITC had its first team compete at the Global Finals tournament of Destination Imagination in Knoxville, TN, winning first place in the Maze Craze category at the university level.
Destination Imagination, or DI as its most often referred to, is a gathering of over 8,000 elementary through university aged students from more than 15 countries around the world. Centered on creativity, the event allows student finalists the opportunity to display their inventive solutions in the areas of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics), as well as service learning and improvisation. Collin Blanchard, one of the ACU team members who participated, talked to us about the experience.
“DI is essentially, to my understanding, a place to participate in challenges of various types and to grow as a team. I had never heard of DI before, but Korbin Ancell had participated in it for something like 10 years. He told us about it and we decided we could do it at the university level.” Collin went on to explain how the challenge works.
“Each of the levels of competition was pretty similar, especially for us. At each level, we decided to keep our project mostly the same. The part that changed the most was our maze solver, the robot. At the regional level, a last minute change broke the robot entirely, so we had to resort to a remote controlled toy to complete the challenge. At state, our full solution was still not working, so we just controlled our robot with a remote, but at least it wasn’t a toy this time. At global, we had the full solution working, with a camera connected to a raspberry pi and codes that the camera would read to solve the maze and drive the robot for us. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the actual location, the noise from all of the Bluetooth and the glare from a light on our camera meant that we had to resort to driving the robot with a remote again. Our skit stayed the same through all of the levels, aside from missing Isaak at Globals since he started a new job. One last change was the song that we sang during the skit. At regionals, the song was our own lyrics to the tune of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. At State and Globals, it was a completely original song that Virginia Pettit and one of our teammates, Matt, wrote together. The skit told the story of unlikely pirates finding buried treasure and teaching a real pirate that friendship is the greatest treasure of all.”
Collin encourages others to participate in this event. “This was a really fun opportunity. If other students have a group that they get along well with and have an idea for one of the challenges, they should go for it! Even if they don’t win, it is a really good chance to build teamwork and use skills outside of the classroom setting.”
Learn more about Destination Imagination here.
Rachael Shudde (’18) is a recent May graduate who majored in computer science and math from Ovalo, TX. During her time at ACU, Rachael was involved with Mu Sigma, the Honors College, Ko Jo Kai social club, worked as a research assistant, interned in D.C., interned with NASA, and much more. After graduating in May, Rachael will be attending Texas A&M to earn her masters in statistics and will be working with Lockheed Martin as a data scientist and analyst while at school. “Statistics is a combination of everything I like,” said Rachael. “I can work with people, use my computer science and data skills, and help explain problems.” Rachael is particularly excited to attend Texas A&M for graduate school because of their emphasis on astrostatistics and telescopes around the world that yield interesting data. At Lockheed Martin, Rachael is most excited to work on real-world applications of her skills. “It’s very different to solve problems in an environment where someone does not have the answers,” she noted. “It’s also very exciting to work on problems that do not have answers.”
Rachael feels that ACU has prepared her well and the opportunities that she was able to take advantage of are one-of-a-kind. Especially in her areas of study, a lot of Rachael’s work was self-involved and required her to research and actively learn. She learned to establish what she does not know and make a plan to find the answer. Rachael’s love for learning, work ethic, and motivation from her teachers helped her achieve all that she has. However, the biggest impact ACU had on Rachael was not in the academic sphere. “I gained a lot of confidence in myself,” said Rachael. “Because of the faculty and mentors I have encountered, I am confident in who I am and my abilities and very happy with where I am at.” Rachael’s faculty, staff, and peers have all played instrumental roles in her life. Getting involved with her department allowed Rachael to meet awesome people and friends and helped create close relationships with the faculty. “The personal relationships I’ve built here are amazing and so special to ACU,” she said “It is visible how much the professors care.” While Rachael is excited for the future and what lies beyond graduation, she will also miss ACU where she has grown and felt so blessed and ACU will certainly miss her.
Faculty and staff of the SITC celebrated with graduates and their families at a dinner at Lytle Land & Cattle Company on Friday night. It was a time for those in attendance to celebrate milestones, reflect on their educational journey, and recognize talented students and faculty.
Faculty awarded outstanding seniors for the following:
Charlie Velazquez, Digital Entertainment Technology major, received the Inspiring Leadership Award with faculty members saying, “Over the last two years, he has distinguished himself with his attention to detail in creating incredible 3D models. He has inspired an entire group of underclassmen to a higher standard of game development.”
Collin Blanchard, Computer Science major, received the Award for Commitment and Resiliency. When asked about Collin, faculty said, “During his time at ACU, this student has shown great determination and willingness to learn whatever was asked of him. He has approached difficult problems with a consistently positive attitude and has made a positive impact on students around him.”
John Wolfe, Information Technology major, received the Pursuit of Excellence Award. Faculty said about John, “Over the past four years, he has distinguished himself among his peers as someone with a positive attitude and a persistent drive to search for and find answers. His motivation, perseverance and relentless pursuit of excellence has been evident in all that he does. He never gives up, even with the most complex problems and serves as an example to many.”
Korbin Ancell, Computer Science major, received the Application and Ingenuity Award. Faculty said of Korbin, “He is always involved with multiple projects both inside and outside the classroom in addition to working 2 to 3 part-time jobs. His exceptional curiosity has made him both a great student in the classroom, as well as leading him to accomplish a wide range of inventive projects of his own inspiration. He has developed a reputation around campus as the “go-to student” who can help with a wide range of technical projects.”
Alani Peters, Computer Science major, received the Research Dedication Award. Faculty said this about the final award recipient, “During her time at ACU, she has rigorously applied herself to the pursuit of research. She has contributed to each project through countless hours of hard work and has seen the fruits of her labor as publications in highly respected conferences with her professors and her peers.”
University Scholars, George Bush, Caleb Martin, and Nevan Simone were recognized at the dinner as well. These students were nominated by department faculty and recognized overall by the university as “excelling in scholarly activity appropriate to their disciplines.” Only fifty ACU students are recognized each year and this year, three of them are graduating from SITC.
Dr. John Homer received this year’s SITC Teacher of the Year award, presented by last year’s winner, Dr. James Prather. The Teacher of the Year award is voted on by all students in the School of IT and Computing. Students had this to say about Dr. Homer: “He is an incredible professor who cares about his students and takes the time to make sure the information is understood. He is an example of humility, Christian leadership, and quiet compassion. He’s also brilliant, an avid learner, and incredibly funny (but don’t tell him that). Dr. Homer somehow makes running the department, delivering polished lectures, and leaving time for family look easy. His professionalism and kindness toward both students and faculty is truly inspiring. I can think of nobody more deserving of this recognition.”
Congratulations to the award winners and to all of the graduating students in the School of Information Technology and Computing. Go change the world, Wildcats!
For a complete look at the pictures from the SITC dinner, click on this link.