ACU's relationship with technology companies helps students go to work

sitc job prospects

"They have no trouble getting jobs."

That statement alone tells you all you need to know about ACU's School of Information Technology and Computing.

And the really good news is that students don't have to wait until they get a degree to go to work. Dr. Tim Coburn, director of SITC, said most students have a job or internship by the time they are sophomores.

In today's troubled economic times, with job layoffs being announced daily, that should sound like music to the ears of anyone thinking about enrolling.

Thanks to a close relationship with a number of technology companies, ACU can provide SITC students with exceptional job opportunities in a variety of fields.

We have alumni working in all kinds of companies throughout the world, including Blue Cross/Blue Shield, American Airlines, Pepsico, SAP, Northrup Grumman, and Raytheon, as well as some like Milsoft Utility Solutions, Genesis Networks Solutions and Wolfepack Software right here in our own backyard.

Below are just a few examples:

Milsoft Utility Solutions

Walk into the Milsoft Utility Solutions office on Buffalo Gap Road, and you're likely to see a familiar ACU face.

Jeff Wilhite might be one of those. Jeff, a senior application developer at Milsoft, earned a degree in computer science from ACU in 1999. He will celebrate his 10th year with Milsoft in June.

Now that his job responsibilities include hiring and mentoring college interns, Jeff can see just how valuable a degree from ACU's School of Information Technology can be.

"We want to hire people who are smart, who learn quickly, and who get things done," he said.

ACU students fit the bill. ACU students and graduates make up a large portion of the workforce and that relationship has a bright future.

The company, headquartered in Abilene with offices nationwide, develops software for use in the electric utility industry.

Currently, 58 of Milsoft's 83 employees are based in Abilene, and 28 of those either graduated from or have attended ACU, said Leon Giesecke, chief operating officer. Of those employees, 10 are interns, including seven from ACU.

The School of Information Technology and Computing even has a link to Milsoft to make it easy for students to learn about internships.

ACU does not have a formal tie to Milsoft, but the two have been linked for years.

"We have informally worked together for over 25 years," Giesecke said. "I started as a part-time programmer for the company that became Milsoft, through a referral of Dr. Charles Small."

Small taught in the business school at ACU from 1997 to 2004. He now is associate professor emeritus of management sciences.

Jeff, who began last fall as an adjunct faculty member in the computer science department at ACU, did not serve an internship while he was a student. But as soon as he was hired, he realized how well prepared he was for the job.

"I was able to start to work and begin being productive on the first day," he said.

He thinks he knows why a computer science degree from ACU is so valuable. It's because ACU is a liberal arts university, not a technical school. Jeff didn't go to school just to learn programming or Web development.

"I went to ACU to learn computer science, to learn to reason, to solve problems, and to grow into a well-rounded person," he said. "ACU and the computer science department performed excellently in that task."

The field of software development changes so rapidly, Jeff said, that skills learned in school are practically obsolete by the time a student graduates. That's why it is so important to learn how to think and solve problems, not just learn programming.

"At ACU I got to wrap my mind around the big picture of what computer science looks like from 10,000 feet," he said. "It's knowing that big picture that enables me to quickly learn the new skills I need on the job and to solve the new problems I face every day."

He sees that same ability in today's ACU students who apply for internships. In fact, the company has had so much success with ACU students that it stays in constant contact with the computer science faculty.

The hope is that they will send their best students to Milsoft for an internship and possible full-time employment after graduation. The Milsoft internship program is not a way for the company to get "tedious programming tasks done cheaply," Jeff said. "It's a way to groom future developers for our team."

Jeff said ACU students are so highly regarded that Milsoft's strategy has been to "watch the ACU computer science program like a hawk and not let any of the really good programmers get away."

Genesis Networks Solutions

Genesis Networks, which specializes in software testing and development and other IT support, occupies two floors of the Enterprise Building in downtown Abilene. Genesis Networks counts among its clients such heavy hitters as AT&T and IBM.

Originally, Genesis Networks Solutions was intended to be a satellite office of Genesis Networks Inc. in San Antonio that would serve as a lab for ACU students, said Mark Viertel, president and chief operating officer. Instead, it became a separate business with strong ties to ACU.

The current workforce includes 10 ACU graduates and one intern, Viertel said.

That relationship doesn't guarantee ACU students will be hired by the company, but it does give them a foot in the door.

Not only does the university provide Genesis Networks with solid interns and full-time employees, it also works closely with Viertel to make sure the right courses are being offered to prepare students for the workplace.

Future ACU students can thank people like Robert Hehn for giving his employer such a good impression of the university and its graduates. At one time Hehn, a 2004 ACU graduate, worked with Viertel at another company. When Viertel was named chief operating officer of Genesis Networks Solutions, one of the first things he did was contact Hehn.

Hehn earned a bachelor's degree in computer science from ACU and learned that the skills he got as an undergraduate left him well prepared for the workplace.

"I didn't have a complete understanding of Genesis, but I picked it up easily," Hehn said. Now Hehn spends his days testing and debugging software for companies like AT&T to ensure that the phone company's customers don't have any trouble navigating its Web site.

Hehn and other ACU graduates have proven to be great employees and have paved the way for new graduates. Current student Aimee Luallin learned of an internship opportunity through ACU's CareerLink. Within days she was working as a marketing intern for Genesis Networks Solutions. 

Viertel said the firm's management treats interns just like full-time employees so they will be prepared for the "real world" when they graduate.

"Aimee graduates in May, and we're trying to prepare her for what life is going to be like after May," Viertel said.

For Aimee, the experience has been invaluable, and she believes she will be one of those ACU graduates who won't have any trouble getting a job.

"I’ve gotten the chance to wear so many hats," she said.

With a little luck, future ACU students will have even more opportunities for internships at Genesis. Viertel said the company needs to expand its customer base in order to expand its intern program.

"That’s really our goal this year," he said.

Frac Tech Services, Ltd.

Topher Fangio earned his degree from ACU in December 2006 and almost immediately took his computer skills and knowledge to one of the hottest drilling sites in the country - the massive Barnett Shale formation.

The Barnett Shale covers several counties in the Metroplex area and much of the city of Fort Worth, where Topher landed a job with Frac Tech Services, Ltd., an oil and gas services company.

Topher, short for "Christopher," discovered right away that what he had learned in classes at would be put to good use in his new job.

"Within the first few days, I was using many of the things that I learned in my electronics class," he said. "Throughout the last two years, I have built upon the ideas and theories that I learned in my computer science classes."

Frac Tech takes its name from the service it provides called "well fracturing." When production begins to drop in an oil or natural gas well, a process called "fracturing" can be used to squeeze out remaining deposits.

Large amounts of sand and chemicals are pumped into the well under high pressure to break up or "fracture" the pockets of oil or gas that still remain.

Topher's job involves developing software that his company uses when workers are on a job site fracturing a well. The software acquires data from various devices that tell the operator how much sand has been pumped, what the current pressures are, etc.

The curriculum at ACU gave Topher the skills and knowledge he needed to get a great job, but he found something even more lasting from his ACU experience.

"I feel that the most helpful thing about ACU is the community," Topher said. "My professors, my classmates, my friends all wanted to help me do well and truly understand what I was learning."

Meeting in professors' homes and just hanging out with faculty and other students were all pluses that Topher found at ACU. He also had the opportunity to put his classroom knowledge to work while still in school.

While at ACU, Topher worked in the computer science and information technology departments and with Team55, a one-stop shop to assist students with technology needs.

"These all helped prepare me for working in the 'real world' and gave me many experiences for which I am very grateful," Topher said.

Topher's advice to new students is to "find some way to get involved with a group of students who are like-minded and have the same goals in life."

He learned that being part of a community at ACU can help students attain goals that might seem impossible.

"You can learn so much outside of class," Topher said, "and make connections that will last throughout your lifetime."

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