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A Day in the Life of a CAST Information Technology Student: Then and Now

Then and Now graphic

Some things change while some stay the same: What is campus like life for an information technology student in 1980 vs. 2019? Read on:

1980 text

Meet Barb (Kalscheur) O’Malley, a freshman in the Honors program from Geneseo, Illinois. O’Malley is majoring in applied computer science and is a member of the second class of freshman in ACS. Today, the computer science major can be found in the School of Information Technology, and O’Malley is a 1984 graduate from Illinois State University. Read on to learn about a day in her life as a student:

9 a.m.: Alarm goes off. Debate whether or not I need breakfast and decide that the answer is no. (Sleep always wins.) I hit snooze.

9:09 a.m.: Hit snooze again.

9:18 a.m.: Snooze goes off again, and I decide to get out of bed.

10 a.m.: Class in Stevenson Hall. I take lots of business and computer classes and spend a lot of time in both Stevenson and Julian Halls, so I’m happy that they are relatively close together.

11 a.m.: Stay in Stevenson and head to the computer lab. It’s great that it is right in the building—it’s where we print the punch cards needed to run the computer programs. A lot of times, the students in the computer lab will collaborate, and it will turn into an informal debugging session. I always learn something when I’m in the lab!

(Alum’s note: At the end of the semester, students would take the cards to the top of Watterson Towers and fling them off, and it would basically snow punch cards! By the time I was a teaching assistant senior year, everything was on terminals, and students would hand in green bar print-outs of their programs.)

Noon: Grab a quick lunch at the Vrooman Center, the Hewett-Manchester food court. (Editor’s note: The Vrooman Center was a dining center from 1966-2008. It now serves as the main entrance to Hewett/Manchester Halls and home to the Julia N. Visor Academic Center.)

The entry worker slides the tab on my ID card from “out” to “in” for this meal. Lunch is typically a debate between a sandwich and a salad. I eat and head back to Stevenson.

1 p.m.: Class in Stevenson. We have a test today, but it is open book, like many of our tests are.

Alum Barb (Kalscheur) O'Malley '84, left, and friends on campus.

Alum Barb (Kalscheur) O’Malley ’84, left, and friends on campus.

2 p.m.: Watch General Hospital in the commons on my residence hall floor (Hewett 6). VCR technology is almost here, but it is way too expensive for it to be commonplace, so we all do our best to make sure our class schedules allow us to watch it live.

(Alum’s note: One of my friends will own a VCR my senior year, and our priority was recording the last episode of M*A*S*H*.)

3 p.m.: Flip the television channel over to MTV—a brand new network. The concept of music videos is mind-blowing. Adam Ant and Duran Duran are some of our favorites.

4 p.m.: Head to aerobics class in McCormick Hall. (Editor’s note—ISU is nine years away from opening the recreation center on Beech Street, and 31 years away from opening the current Student Fitness Center.) Jane Fonda is super popular right now, so aerobics is the current go-to workout.

6 p.m.: Dinner at Vrooman with friends from my floor; I grab a salad. We tend to eat small dinners to save room for dessert: vanilla ice cream with peanut butter (Try it! It’s revolutionary.)

As we eat, we talk about our plans for our Hewett floor dance. We are all working to organize it, and we’re going to hold it in the Brown Ballroom. We’re expecting about 200 people to attend.

(Alum’s note: There were not as many registered student organizations when I was on campus as there are now. During my time as a student, I would eventually become a member of the student chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery, but activities like planning floor dances were other ways to get involved on campus.)

7 p.m.: Head to the Center for Visual Arts (the only place on campus with PCs!) to do some homework. I’m currently working on a computer program that will be able to calculate odds and accept bets. I save my homework using the latest technology—a floppy disc (Yes, it is actually floppy!)

10 p.m.: Back to Hewett in time to watch David Letterman with my floor.

Fun fact: O’Malley completed her required internship at Northern Trust in Chicago and considers herself to be the “intern that never went home:” Flash forward to 2020, and she is still at Northern Trust, serving as senior vice president of data and digital product. She says that while the technology has evolved, the concepts and discipline of the information technology industry are the same as they were in 1980.

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Meet Casey Johnson, a junior majoring in Cybersecurity in the School of Information Technology. A go-getter who believes that “free time is for wimps,” Johnson serves as president of two registered student organizations: Women in Technology and Association for Information Technology Professionals. She also holds down three jobs while being a student full-time. Here’s a peek at how she does it:

6 a.m.: My first alarm goes off. I know I don’t have to get up quite yet, so I hit snooze. Then I hit snooze two more times.

6:40 a.m.: Emergency alarm goes off. I get up for real now.

6:50 a.m.: Drive to work. Listen to 103.3 WZND on the way since its one of the only radio stations in the area not playing commercials at that time.

7 a.m.: I’m at my desk at State Farm, checking emails while eating breakfast. My breakfast is always an applesauce pouch—yes, like the kind kids eat! My coworkers give me a hard time about it, but I love that I can eat it on the go.

7:15 a.m.: I’m deep into email investigations by this point. At State Farm, I work in cybersecurity. I spend my time looking at malicious email, and it is super interesting.

Every email is something new to investigate; it’s basically like being a computer detective. I analyze emails that are suspected to be malicious, looking for evidence that the email is a cyber threat. I then trigger activity to thwart the threat and to learn more about the attacker’s intentions and methods.

Casey Johnson, information technology student

Casey Johnson, information technology student

I’m grateful for the experience I’m getting while working at a Fortune 500 company. My position allows me to really focus on one specific task and learn a lot about it.

12:15 p.m.: Back at my apartment, making a quick lunch: a ham sandwich, and I never forget the mayo!

A quick lunch is key, because I don’t have much time in between jobs. I know my schedule might seem a little crazy, but I love it. I find energy being at work—I know that’s not the case for everyone, but I love problem-solving and the energy boost I get from accomplishing tasks on the job.

1 p.m.: Settling into work on campus in Julian Hall in the information security office. I love having two different jobs so I can really get the feel for what it would be like to work for different companies and in different environments.

On campus, I also look at phishing emails a lot, but I also get to do other tasks, like look at computer logs for suspicious activity and performing risk analysis on potential vulnerabilities to Illinois State University. I also recently got Splunk certified, which I was really proud of. Splunk is an organizational tool that is used for searching and examining logs generated by ISU owned workstations and servers all over campus.

5 p.m.: Time for class in Old Union: IT 262, project management. I love this class, because I learn concepts and then get to apply them immediately in the classroom as we work on a group project throughout the semester.

Everyone secretly hates group projects, but I know they are good learning experiences—the more you interact in a team environment, the more you learn what works. I definitely work to take on a leadership role in a group. Stereotypically, IT students might not have the best communication skills, so that is something that I consciously work at when I’m in a group. I want to transcend the label to provide a better outcome for everyone involved.

6:30 p.m.: I’m back at my apartment after class, and it’s time to cook dinner. I love to cook and bake—it definitely de-stresses me. I often cook for my roommate; I think it helps to establish a family setting, making campus feel more like a home away from home. When we decided to live together, I told her that my only stipulation for our apartment was that I wanted it to have a big kitchen! Tonight, I’m making shrimp stir fry. I go through flash cards while I cook, using the app Quizlet on my phone.

8 p.m.: I’m on the couch with the television on in the background (football—Go Bears!) After sitting at a desk all day, I’m ready to relax. I’m catching up on emails that I didn’t have a chance to get to throughout the day.

Most are related to the registered student organizations I’m a part of—Women in Technology and Association for Information Technology Professionals. Right now, Women in Technology is partnering with some other RSOs on campus (Women in Business, Women in Science and Technology, Student Health Information Management Association) to host a women’s social event. Having an opportunity to get together and network will be really beneficial.

Midnight: I’m a night owl, and I’ve finally wound down enough to go to bed. I take a shower and fall asleep almost instantly after flipping through some flashcards on my phone.