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.
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.
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.
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.
Graduation is nearing and it’s the time of year we sadly bid adieu to our graduating seniors. We are proud of their accomplishments and we’d like to introduce you to a few of them on this blog, letting you know how their time at ACU has molded them, where they are headed after graduation, and what advice they have to the new freshmen class coming in the fall.
Darius Bell, Computer Science major from Frisco, Texas
After graduation, I am moving to Indianapolis, Indiana to work as an Associate Software Developer for a company called Infosys. I am mostly excited about the new adventure set before me along with its challenges.
My favorite memory at ACU was during the spring semester of my sophomore year. My friends and I would go to Lake Fort Phantom and have bonfires on Friday nights.
My favorite class was the Digital Photography Course with Nil Santana. Photography is a hobby of mine and getting a chance to expound upon that hobby has been really fun.
Advice I would give to freshmen would be two things. The first is that they should make the most of their opportunities with their professors. Go to the professor’s office, attend their tutoring sessions, ask all the questions – even the dumb ones…okay, not all of the dumb ones, but you get the point. Maximize your learning potential. The second piece of advice I’d give is that God can be found anywhere. It doesn’t take a private Christian university for one to find him, just seek and you will find. That being said, it is really easy to get comfortable and complacent in this Christian environment and if one is not careful, you might miss the chance to experience genuine relationship and community while you’re here. Be alert and ever seeking His face.
Alani Peters, Computer Science major from Montgomery, Texas
I will be a Software Developer for USAA in Plano, Tx. I am excited to apply all that I have learned in my four years here at ACU & for no more homework.
My favorite experience at ACU would be Study Abroad. I went to Leipzig, Germany and absolutely loved being immersed in the culture.
My favorite class was HCI 1 and/or 2 (Human Computer Interaction). These classes gave me a passion for HCI and lead to me doing research in this field of work.
I would advise freshmen to get to know the people around them. Whether it is in the dorms or in classes, the people you surround yourself with is so important and will have such an impact on your time at ACU and in the future.
Isaak Ramirez, Computer Science major from El Paso, Texas
I’m moving to Denton, TX to begin my exciting job as a Software Support Analyst with a company called Austin Lane Technologies. I am extremely excited to be able to be completely self-sufficient! Also, being able to afford an apartment that I can have to myself sounds amazing.
I have had so many fond memories with the people I have met at ACU, that it is basically impossible to just pick one. Meeting my SITC friends at the DeLano house was definitely a staple of my ACU experience.
Dr. Homer’s Algorithms class was one of the most challenging classes I have ever taken, but it was extremely educational. While I may have not always “enjoyed” doing several weekly homework assignments, I am able to look back at the class fondly.
For any freshman, do not be afraid to ask for help, especially at a place like ACU. Many of your professors and classmates are very willing to help you through any problem you may be facing!
John Wolfe, Information Technology major from The Woodlands, Texas
I’m currently interviewing with a few companies and am hopeful that I will have a job soon! I am most excited about having no more homework.
My favorite memory of ACU is actually about to happen: graduation.
My favorite class at ACU was Intro to Philosophy with Randy Harris. It was the most enlightening course that has helped me in my walk with Christ.
My advice to incoming freshmen would be to find your passion as soon as possible. Once you do, you’ll want to do nothing but strive towards the dream.
Congratulations to the class of 2018! As Minor Meyers said, “Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.”