Student Spotlight Continued

James Shafer

Sissonville, W.Va.

Information Systems Management, National Security and Intelligence, and Political Science Fairmont State University

What inspired you to choose your major, and when did you know it was what you wanted to study?

Focusing on my Information Systems Management degree, my main inspiration was my mom. One of my fondest and earliest memories was sitting on my mom’s lap when I was two or three

years old, slamming my hands on a wired keyboard that wasn’t connected to anything. My mom worked in IT for almost all of her life, so it was a no-brainer choice.

What do you enjoy most about your major?

The thing I enjoy most about my major is the opportunity that it provides. I work at WVU Medicine, and this past summer I had

the opportunity to intern with them and grew my knowledge of the IT world.

Information Systems Management is a major that often falls in one of two categories: business or technology. At Fairmont State University, it happens to be business. Do you consider yourself a STEM major? What aspects of STEM are involved in your major?

With the close proximity to technology and my classes, I would consider Information Systems Management a STEM major. While we are not necessarily specializing in coding languages,

we do learn about the Java coding language and we have other classes about networking, database creation and management, and the basics of operating systems.

Do you see ways in which STEM and the Arts intersect?

I personally believe that STEM and the Arts can and should intersect. STEM has a stigma of being unfeeling and not having any creativity behind it, while the Arts are often perceived as being the opposite (emotional and lacking real-world application).

I think each group needs the other. A great deal of creativity goes into STEM majors, especially when it comes to designing systems or creating mockups, so these two areas definitely overlap.

How did you choose Fairmont?

Fairmont was actually third on my list. My first choice was a good school, but it was an absolute nightmare to navigate, and they really did not have a major that encapsulated everything I wanted to do. My second choice was worse; they could not get anyone to talk to me about anything related to computers. I went on a Fairmont tour, and it felt like home.

I walked across campus for the first time, turned to my mom, and said, “This really could be home.” I felt so strongly about that I canceled my fourth visit to another school.

In this issue of the Neurite, we are featuring the Iron Falcon—a project that you are part of at Fairmont State University. Tell us a bit about the Iron Falcon project and your role within it.

I am the project lead for the Iron Falcon project. I oversee the entire project and make sure that everything is running smoothly.

The main goal of Iron Falcon is, first and foremost, to expand knowledge of cybersecurity in the state of West Virginia in order for more students to have more opportunities to stay in the state. Before the statewide competition and before the projects are sent into space, students have to prove their concept is foolproof, so they test them first through balloons. In spring 2020, the projects were sent on a resupply mission to the International Space Station and then we held a statewide competition begins.

The project is important because it exposes middle and high school students to the STEM possibilities in West Virginia that they may not know about. Plus, it’s great hands-on experience for students.

We have two universities (WVU and Fairmont State), eight different high schools, four middle schools, a technical center and two different homeschooling groups as participants. “The more the merrier” applies, and we are actively looking for more participants in the project.

What do you plan to do with your degree?

Currently, I am employed at WVU Medicine as an Associate Help Desk Technician. I actually interned with the company in the summer of 2018, so I enjoy working here and I definitely seeing myself applying for a team position in the company.

However, I could also see myself working for the federal government, with such close proximity to Clarksburg and the Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) division of the FBI. In this area, the possibilities are truly endless.

Do you think we need to do a better job prepping youth for STEM fields at younger ages?

Yes, most definitely! I believe that prepping kids for future fields will really help them discover what they really want to do. It was easy for me to envision my future career and I definitely had

people encouraging me, but not everyone has that and I think prepping kids to help them find what they want to do will be able to fill the gaps some kids have.

You are a first-generation college student, right? Tell us a bit about your experience.

I am, and I’m very proud of it; it’s almost like an identity for me. My mother went straight to work out of high school at the Division of Rehabilitation Services and my father went to trade school to become a diesel mechanic. While my dad made a

good living from his trade, he and my mom both pushed me to go to college. They, along with my grandparents, are my biggest motivators and are really what kept me going.

What advice do you have for Neurite readers?

My biggest piece of advice I could give is find something that really sets your heart on fire. If the things you are doing

challenge you and you feel everything you do has worth, focus on it.

This interview was conducted in 2019.

Next: Iron Falcon