Mike Rinehart ’15 was really into video games as a kid, so once when he was 11 years old he decided to host an online game himself so people from all over the world could log in and play.

He ended up breaking his family’s router.

His dad told him to fix it, so he did. He discovered that he loved breaking stuff—especially technology—and figuring out how it goes back together. That growing interest for computers led him to Illinois State, where he graduated in May with a degree in network and telecommunications management. He’ll start working at Discover in August as a mobile application developer.

Rinehart is a self-starter, but Illinois State’s School of Information Technology (IT) offered several unique opportunities that helped him boot up his career—long before he graduated.

“I feel like I’ve gotten a great foundation upon which to build my own skills,” said Rinehart, a Naperville native. “The School of IT really encouraged me to seek things out and learn on my own.”

His parents, Bob and Nancy Rinehart, are excited to see their son’s hobby turn into his career.

“We always told our kids: Find your passion and you’ll find a way to make money while doing it,” Bob said.

As Mike was choosing which school to attend, Illinois State stood out in part because of the IT-focused Themed Living-Learning Community he was able to live in his freshman year. Another huge selling point was that he was able to take IT classes right away as a freshman, unlike some other schools.

“That was one thing we noticed that set ISU apart,” Nancy said.

Mike’s tuition was also locked in for four years, which made college more affordable for their family. Mike also worked part-time for Illinois State as a web developer.

“I think he got a tremendous value for the dollar spent,” Bob said.

Mike made the most of his four years at Illinois State. One of his most memorable experiences was taking third place with ISU’s Security Club at the Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition in 2014. He and nine other students huddled in a room for eight hours, blasting techno music and pounding energy drinks as they defended a mock business from a fake cyber-attack. He loved it.

But it was another out-of-class experience that helped lead to his mobile development job at Discover.

Rinehart was the winner of Illinois State’s 2015 Mobile Application Development (MAD) contest, an annual event sponsored by State Farm. Rinehart’s app, called Ride Guide, leveraged mobile technology and social media to safely connect students with designated drivers.

He had never built an app before, but he wanted to try. He spent hours and hours on it, including most of winter break.

“Being able to cram all this development into just four months—doing it on my own—that really inspired me to go with mobile development (in my career),” Rinehart said. “Being able to create something and then share my work with other people, and have them benefit from it, is a great feeling.”

Rinehart already had a foot in the door at Discover because he did one of his two summer internships there; the other was at Caterpillar. In fact all IT students are required to do an internship, and there’s a special class that prepares students to create a resume and interview with employers.

Mike’s parents saw his maturity and professional skillset grow with each experience.

“To know that Mike has a very well-paying job with a very reputable company, with all of the benefits, right after he graduates, it’s very exciting,” said Bob.

“Illinois State has been a great experience for us, and a tremendous experience for him.”

Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.

One thought on “Young IT alum boots up career thanks to ISU experiences

  1. Turning hobby into career is really a good thing. But now it lacks these things. Students indeed should be encouraged to explore their own interest.