Computer Information Systems

From Watching Elephants in the Afternoon to Judging JMU Student Projects at Night

Photo of elephants taken by Tom Dillon - 2017

SUMMARY: CIS alum Chris Wood gave back by serving as a student project judge while on another continent.

By Tom Dillon

The picture flickered for a few seconds and the sound took about three minutes to be clear and audible, but James Madison University alum Chris Wood was able to give back to his alma mater in a very exceptional way from half way around the world. Chris, along with Computer Information Systems (CIS) alumni Tom Leach, Kenny Lawhorn and Meaghan Carter volunteered to serve as judges for student projects in the IT Consulting class taught by Professor Tom Dillon. The final judging was November 16. The other judges drove to the Harrisonburg campus from Northern Virginia, but Chris was sitting in South Africa, about three hours’ drive from Johannesburg. He was visiting his grandmother for a few days after a business meeting in London. 

Alum Chris Wood judging CIS student projectsUsing GoToMeeting, the online meeting and video conference software, Chris joined the class from his room from the Game Lodge at the Pilanesburg National Park. The class started at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, but for Chris, it was 10:30 p.m. in South Africa. Chris had spent the day sitting with his grandmother on the veranda watching elephants and lions roam the grounds.

“All four judges are greatly committed to our Computer Information Systems (CIS) program,” commented Professor Dillon. “Each member of the judging team reads six of the twelve student proposals,” Dillon explained. “Each proposal is a 35 page document designed to respond to a Request For Proposals (RFP) from the federal government. The classroom activity is a simulation of how the government contracts actually work,” he continued. “Knowing how to win work is a key factor to become a successful consultant, and our CIS alumni share their time and energy helping us prepare our majors. They provide their expertise, even from half a world away,” Dillon concluded.

The IT Consulting class is offered each fall. In addition to the four alumni that served as judges, twelve consulting firms that recruit and hire CIS majors also provide mentorship and guidance to student teams as they complete the eight-week project. The consulting teams that mentored this year are Accenture, Booz Allen Hamilton, CapTech, CGI, CSRA, Deloitte, EY, KPMG, NJVC, PwC, Protoviti, and SmartResources. Each firm provides between two and five mentors to guide the students.

This year, the judges determined that the student teams mentored by CGI and CSRA were the top two teams.  The CSRA student team was mentored by JMU CIS alumni Jim Visich, John Dancy and Jeremy Mento. The CGI student team was mentored by JMU CIS alumni Samantha Hunt, Gregg Mossburg and Patrick Knowles. In addition, Jean Orlando, a graduate of the computer science program at JMU, and JMU international business alum Greg Wilson also served as CGI mentors.

The students on the two winning teams were Mikael Belay (CIS), Victor Aguirre (MGT), and Tarek Arafat (CIS) on the CGI mentored team and Alex Hunt (CIS), Ceanna Adams (SMAD), and Chris Bennsky (CIS) on the CSRA mentored team. The two winning teams will now move forward to one more evaluation in December to determine the winner of the Outstanding IT Consulting Team competition.

When informed of the outcome of the IT consulting class competition and that over 50 alumni and friends participated, Dr. Art Gowan, the CIS and Business Analytics Department Chair, confirmed the commitment of the program’s alumni. “I am once again amazed at the eagerness of the alumni to support our students. They serve various roles in and out of the classroom, including membership in our Executive Advisory Board,” Gowan commented.  “Engaging our alumni over the years has helped to assure the relevance of the CIS curriculum,” Gowan stated, and “Dr. Dillon’s willingness to open his classroom door and teach out of the box, speaks volumes about his passion to prepare students for the real world.”  “This unique course focuses on IT consulting, an area in which most of the CIS graduates are hired,” Gowan continued,” and the engagement of the alumni as technical mentors has taken the course to the next level for our students.”

Each year during the enrollment period, students complete an application process and are screened for entry to the IT Consulting class. Students interested in participating are encouraged to contact Dr. Dillon.

Published: Monday, November 27, 2017

Last Updated: Wednesday, January 2, 2019

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