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Cougars shine at USITCC Nationals
Alex Keimig
José C. Martínez, Sai Todupunoori and Peggy Lindner.
José C. Martínez, Sai Todupunoori and Peggy Lindner.
A group photo of UH participants at this year's USITCC Nationals.
A group photo of UH participants at this year's USITCC Nationals.
A group photo of UH participants at this year's USITCC Nationals.
A group photo of UH participants at this year's USITCC Nationals.

The U.S. Information Technology Collegiate Conference (USITCC) 2024 Nationals were held in Louisiana last month, and the UH Cougars triumphed in both awards and accomplishments.

UH's Future IT Professionals (FITP) organization was named the IT Student Organization of the Year, and UH students were recognized with nine other awards across competition categories such as Systems Analysis & Design, Network Design and PC Troubleshooting.

"That comes from their preparations," said instructional associate professor of computer information systems (CIS) José C. Martínez. "The last two semesters, we have really worked hard to prepare for regionals and nationals. I never take anything for granted. Before the competition, I hold workshops and help the students that are going to attend run through all sorts of details and material reviews, example problems and discussions, so that we know we're prepared. This time, I engaged other faculty to do the same thing — to help prepare students according to their specialties. Next semester I'm going to engage everybody that I can."

The benefits of attending USITCC are not limited only to students.

"As faculty, we were there not only to support and facilitate the trip," said assistant professor of computer information systems Peggy Lindner. "I got the chance to interact with other Information Technology instructors and we discussed ongoing challenges regarding engagement of students and integration of AI into our curriculum."

"I think USITCC offered great opportunities for our students to demonstrate directly what they learn in CIS courses," Lindner added. "They also had the chance to talk to students from other programs about careers."

"At USITCC, they do a sort of roll call where they have everyone do some sort of cheer or school chant, so we did 'Whose House?', and it was very encouraging because we were the loudest of the group," said participant and CIS junior Haley Heyman. "Then right after that they went into the student organization awards, and we found out that FITP had won IT Student Organization of the Year. It was very uplifting, especially after all of the travel time to get there."

"Our progression [at USITCC] has been so great that every year we get to take home more awards, but this year was so groundbreaking because we tried a lot of different things with regard to connecting students to professors [with particular specialties] to prepare," agreed participating CIS junior and Future IT Professionals (FITP) Vice President Sai Todupunoori.

Martínez also looks forward to further reinforcing the importance of student experience and growth over focusing on bringing home the most awards.

"Where is the trade-off?" he mused. "Some students are so good that they're going to be winning awards as sophomores in only their third semester of school. That means that they still have two or three more years before they graduate, and that can be six semesters – six competitions – that they can go and keep succeeding at.”

“What I am thinking is that I'm more interested in providing these experiences to as many students as possible. That means that we're not going there to win every single time, which is okay, because it means that the greatest number of students get the opportunity to have that experience, to gain that confidence and be made ready for the industry. That's my goal. I would prefer to have more prepared students to go into the industry than to win the most awards."

Martínez maintains high hopes for his students, both at future conferences and in their transitions to professional industry positions.

"I am very confident in the value of our students and our program. We are showcasing their skills, their practical experiences and all of their knowledge, but at the same time we are developing leadership skills in how to organize, execute plans, and make things happen."

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