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
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.
This summer, Rich Tanner, Clinical Professor of Digital Entertainment Technology, attended the Christian Game Developers Conference held yearly in Portland Oregon. Six students from the School of IT and Computing attended with him. The mission of the conference is “bringing salt and light to one of the most influential industries of the 21stcentury”. Tanner spent a little time to tell us more about his experience as an attendee and professor hoping to encourage his students to share their faith through this platform.
What is the Christian Game Developers Conference about?
The Christian Game Developers Conference has been going for 17 years, and seems to be growing every year. It is a conference for Christians in the games industry, whether they are building overtly Christ-centered games or not. Many participants are utilizing video games, computer games, and even board games and card games to advance the Kingdom. These games have different purposes. Some are to strengthen the Body of Christ, being designed for a Christian audience with a common understanding and background. Others are designed to reach an audience that does not yet know Christ and to pull them into a conversation about Jesus and Christianity. Still, other Christian games are simply designed as wholesome entertainment for Christian families that do not violate Christian beliefs and morals with the questionable content often found in the industry. In addition to these endeavors, the conference also serves as a gathering for folks in the larger games industry who also happen to be Christians. The conference often hosts discussion groups and presentations on what it means to be a follower of Christ in an interactive and multimedia career field. The conference is a place not only for presentations and sharing of ideas and announcements, but for fellowship and fun. Many projects and collaborations are often formed at the conference by various CGDC attendees. I personally have never been to any other conference that looks as much like the Body of Christ in action.
What were you hoping students would get from attending the conference?
I was hoping for students to network and get engaged! The collaboration that happens at CGDC is truly something special, and it is my desire to get students plugged into projects and companies that they can be meaningful contributors to. The DET program has already had a couple of students get connected to both jobs and internships based on connections that were made and strengthened at CGDC. It was also my hope to have students walk away from the conference and the conversations that happened there with a stronger sense of their purpose in the Kingdom and in the world at large. I wanted them to be asking themselves what it means to be a Christian who is learning and aspiring to be a game and content creator.
Why should students become involved with this? How do they become involved?
Students can get involved simply by getting involved with the DET program, the DET Club that meets every week, and by being involved with other students who share their passions and ambitions. Also, connecting with faculty really helps us to help you. There are many great opportunities that come our way, and we want to see you succeed both in the classroom and beyond!
Mike Wheeler, senior Digital Entertainment Technology major from Plano, Texas attended the conference. He said that his biggest takeaway from the conference was learning how important stage presence is, including appearance, a working presentation, and properly selling your idea or product to the audience. Kolton Burkhalter, senior Digital Entertainment Technology major from Abilene, Texas said that the idea he took away from the conference was that it’s possible to keep one’s Christian values in your work. He said that the conference also influenced him to want to start a business alongside his good friends who share the same interests. Seeing many of the developers at the conference who were self-employed or worked in a small studio has given him the confidence to be a gaming entrepreneur.
Burkhalter said the thing he enjoyed most about the conference was “the selflessness shown by everyone there that sets them apart from an ordinary game developer conference. It was less about professionalism and more about community – everyone was willing to help one another amidst working in different companies. The conference was very welcoming and seemed like a family.”
Are you a DET student who’s interested in attending this conference in the future? To learn more about the Christian Game Developers Conference, click here. To learn more about ACU’s DET Club, click here.
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.