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Dz Scholarship Winner Plans to ‘Finish Strong’

West Texas A&M University student Vance Morris tops list of 12 honorees

1/17/2012 4:18:27 PM | A dozen aspiring mainframers were recognized earlier this month with 2011 Destination z Enterprise Computing Scholarships. Chosen from 29 applicants, the winners set themselves apart through their demonstrated dedication to the IBM System z platform.

“We’ve never had a stronger field of applicants. It was fantastic to see so many qualified students from so many excellent mainframe programs coming forward for this scholarship,” says Mike Todd, who oversees the scholarship fund for the IBM Academic Initiative System z. “Serving on the judging committee is becoming a tougher job every year, which is a great problem to have. This year’s winners all have very bright futures ahead of them.”

Now in its fourth year, the program’s top student receives the Greg Zaubi Memorial Scholarship. Zaubi was a Marist College systems programmer who spent the latter part of his career connecting thousands of students and professors worldwide to System z, through the mainframe Knowledge Center hub.

This high honor, including a $2,500 award, went to Vance Morris, an undergraduate student at West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) in Canyon. Just days after the announcement, Destination z spoke with Morris, who had never applied for a Destination z scholarship before.

Q: What was the first thing you thought when you learned you’d won?
A: The first thing I thought was, “Who is Greg Zaubi?” After Googling to my satisfaction, the second thought was that this award came at the most opportune time. The impact is huge. I was worried that I would need to get a part-time job this semester, but now I can relax and focus on a strong finish.

Q: Outside of the classroom, you’ve worked as systems administrator of the mainframe the university uses for coursework. What can you tell us about that experience?
A: “Buffalo Thunder” is the name of WTAMU’s z/OS platform—which was provided by the IBM Innovation Center in Dallas. It supports no less than two classes a semester. As the sys admin for the department, I am responsible for IPLing, account management, resource allocation and maintenance on this system.

The team in Dallas, especially Paul Newton, is amazingly helpful and accommodating, but we like to be as self-sufficient as possible. I’ve also built a custom Rational Developer for System z (RDz) unit test and deployed it to 40 Linux machines in our campus lab. This semester will be the first offering of the final course in enterprise computing at West Texas, and we plan to utilize the RDz unit test extensively. I expect to continue to work with the team in Dallas for the remainder of my time as a student. At some point this semester, we will be selecting a freshman or sophomore computer science student to train as my replacement for when I graduate.

Q: You’ve also done very well on the Master the Mainframe contest, finishing in the top 1 percent, do you think that helped you stand out among scholarship applicants?
A: Absolutely. Master the Mainframe is a fun learning experience, but its ultimate design is to give students an opportunity to be outstanding.

Q: How has your involvement in Master the Mainframe, the Destination z scholarship, or the Academic Initiative, in general, influenced your career path?
A: Basically, my involvement with these programs has opened my eyes to the possibilities that exist. When I was in high school, I was told that the mainframe was dead, and until going to Austin SHARE in 2009, I remained happily oblivious to the universe of opportunity that exists in enterprise computing. After participating in Master the Mainframe, and now being awarded this scholarship, I know that the opposite is true. For computing in general, there has not existed this kind of opportunity in at least 20 years.

Q: Was there a moment you realized you wanted to pursue mainframe education and career?
A: I know exactly when I realized that this was the path for me: It was SHARE 2009 in Austin, Texas. I was standing at the back of an auditorium, gazing upon a field of gray haired (and no-haired) enterprise professionals and my professor asked me, “How many of these people do you think will be ready to retire by the time you graduate?” We had a good laugh because many of them were already ready to retire.

Q: What about the mainframe attracted you to consider this as a career?
A: The workforce vacuum that is happening now is very attractive, but the greatest attraction is the structure. Also, being able to virtualize anything you can imagine is pretty cool.

Q: So where do you see this path leading you after graduation?
A: I intend to put my skill and knowledge in enterprise systems to work for a large business or the U.S. government.

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