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University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Information Technology - Sam Goerke

This interview is with Sam Goerke, an information science and technology major at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, with an expected graduation date of May 2017. We recently spoke with him about his experience within his program and what he's planning to do with his professional future.

What influenced you to pursue a degree in Information Science & Technology?
I had grown up helping those around me with technology.  They would often say they preferred help from me as opposed to the more professional IT crowds because I “didn’t make them feel stupid”.  From there I made it my goal to be a bridge between the tech world and the normal world.  I wanted to understand the technical side of things, but still be able to translate it into actual and useful information for normal users.

What has your experience been like at UW-Milwaukee?
The School of Information Studies (SOIS) at UWM has been more than I could have hoped to experience.  They are a smaller department within a large university, so I was able to get the best of both worlds in the sense that I got the resources of a big school, but the personable community of a small department.

Sam Goerke

SOIS was also amazing at giving me job opportunities.  Starting freshman year, I have always had at least one job within the department.  They not only gave me employment, but a clear progression of responsibilities as I moved up in the program (Student Tech -> Research Assistant -> Academic Tutor -> Web Developer).  I am immensely grateful for the job experiences that SOIS has given me.

Were there other schools you were considering?
While I was considering a few other universities, UW-Milwaukee was always my first choice.  The tipping point was their Summer Research Program/Internship.  I was one of 21 incoming freshmen selected to come and live at the university the summer before our freshman year to be a research assistant.  Right off the bat, even before the start of my first semester, I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Michael Zimmer on his research project The Zuckerberg Files. 

No other school had a program as unique and beneficial as this UWM Summer Research Program.   

What is your favorite class so far?
Web Application Development.  It’s the class where we learn how to actually create custom web applications.  It is by far one of the toughest classes offered in the undergraduate program, but, in my opinion, one of the most useful.  I had to work immensely hard in that class to make sure I was successful.  My efforts paid off in the end though, as the professor of the class (who was also the IT Director of the department) hired me after the semester to be the department’s student web developer.  This again shows one of the things I love about SOIS, the department is always willing to help and encourage hard working students.    

What is unique about the nature of your major’s classes?
Small class sizes and very approachable and down-to-earth professors.  I have gotten to know my SOIS professors more closely than I ever did with my minor or other areas of campus. 

I also feel like our classes are much more hand-on than others (although I think that is a common aspect of most technology majors).  Most of my classes took place in a computer lab where we would be able to immediately test out new skills learned in the class.

What has been the most challenging aspect of this area of study, and was this something you had originally anticipated?
The fact of the matter is that the field of technology is always changing.  To really be successful in this field one has to always be learning and re-learning concepts.  What you learn in your first year might already be out-of-date by your senior year.    

Is there anything you wish you had known about this major ahead of time before choosing this career path or anything else you would like to share?

I wish I had known just how versatile my major is and the very broad range of opportunities that go along with it.  It would have been reassuring back at the start when I thought it was a bit narrower.

What are the best ways to network with your peers within your major?
For me, some of the best networking in the department happened in our computer lab with me working as a departmental tutor.  The atmosphere of the department is very calm and relaxing, which I think allows students to easily connect with other SOIS students, faculty, professors, and support staff.

Have you participated in any internships?
The School of Information Studies has an amazing career development team.  We are always getting emails about local internship opportunities in our field.  I have personally done three IT related internships, two were found through my department’s Career Services Advisor and one I sought out myself.

The first was a program run within the department.  NonprofIT (Pronounced nonprof-IT), which connects technical students to well deserving nonprofits in the Milwaukee community.  The teams of students then help the nonprofit with technology needs, such as building a website, which they could not normally afford.  This internship was done for credit.

The second one was a summer internship at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation within their Bureau of Information Technology Services.  I helped with a variety of technology related projects throughout the summer.  This internship was paid.

The last one was a library practicum during the summer following my sophomore year.  At this point, I was leaning more towards the Library Science route with IT so I wanted to get some exposure in that area.  For this one, I contacted the persons in charge at a Minnesota Library system and asked if I could be their first ever intern.  This became a 9-week volunteer internship and it was a wonderful experience.  While I did not arrange it through our department, the earlier skills I had learned through SOIS gave me the confidence to seek it out.

What are your future career plans and aspirations?
I have made the decision to continue my education and obtain a Master’s degree within the field.  From there, I plan on making a career in information department management.  I want to be the person who connects the technology world to the rest of the world. 

What is the best piece of advice related to your field of study that you have received?
You have to have a love of learning.  The field of technology is in a constant state of change and evolving.  You have to have that drive that makes you want to go see what is new and how you can be applied it to your job/life.  Everything you learn in technology is subject to change, you will always, always be learning in this field. 

What advice would you give someone else trying to break into this field?
There are more technology degrees than just computer science.  The realm of technology has grown to such a magnitude that the educational options for it have diversified greatly.  Make sure to take the time to look at all the possible majors/specialties/aspects within technology.  Make sure to find the best fit for you.

How are you financing your education, and what are your most helpful online resources or tools?
I started saving for college when I got my first job at 11 years old.  I have always had at least one job from when I started working until now.  Unlike many of my high school peers, I saved most of my money because I had a goal of being able to finance college. My personal savings partnered with both local scholarships and a UW-Milwaukee Academic Leadership Scholarship combined to make my goal of financing college a reality.   

As far as online tools… There is no magic website that will give you scholarship money for clicking a button.  If you are serious about it, spend the time doing the research.  For each college you are applying to, check out their financial aid website.  Do they offer scholarships? Does the department you are applying to have any? What are the due dates?  Do I need special documents or letters for the applications?  These questions take time.  There is absolutely money available, but no one is going to get it for you.  You have to put in the time and you have to put in the effort.

What resources or information would you like to help you think about your career that you’re not currently getting?
I kind of laughed at this question, because I had to think quite hard about an answer.  I’m in the field of Information Studies.  For me, that means if there is some information I want to know more about, I go and find it.  It’s the nature of us information nuts, if we are not getting enough information about something, we go look for it.

Sam's Reading List:

  • Brain Bugs: How the Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives, by Dean Buonomano - This book was assigned in the User Usability course and it was quite a change from the normal technical textbook. The book helped me understand some of the human nature of technology. It led to one of my main technology philosophies, which is that it doesn’t matter how cool a new technology is if it’s not useful to the user it’s supposed to be helping.

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