Mark E. Sunderlin ’84 chose Shenandoah University because he had great experiences as a high school student when he attended music camps, concerts and music-related events on campus. Sunderlin originally enrolled as a music major, but later decided to switch to math/computer science. With switching his major, he thought about also changing schools, but realized that Shenandoah was the place for him.
“I considered switching colleges, but I loved the small college atmosphere of Shenandoah, where you knew all your professors and you had friends and got to socialize with students across all different majors, with all different points of view,” said Sunderlin.
Though he was no longer a music major, he continued to play in the concert band and loved every minute of it. One of Sunderlin’s fondest memories of Shenandoah was being assigned to do statistics for the men’s basketball team for a class project. He ended up attending all of the games, whether they were home or away, and ended up doing more than just collecting stats. He did anything to help and ultimately became part of the team.
“Even though it has grown since my time, Shenandoah still offers an outstanding opportunity for a student who wishes to be in a smaller university setting where you are part of a community, and not just a face in the crowd,” said Sunderlin. “At the same time, the learning opportunity is anything but small! Shenandoah offers a world-class education with faculty who are experts in their fields.”
Sunderlin is now a principal data engineer at Oath. When Verizon purchased AOL and Yahoo!, they combined the two into a single holding company, called Oath. Oath, which, as of Nov. 2018 is now Verizon Media Group/Oath, is a media/tech company that reaches more than one billion people worldwide using brands like AOL, Yahoo!, and HuffPost (formerly The Huffington Post). The company strives to provide the best mobile experiences for everything from email and search to video and live events in news, sports, finance and entertainment. Sunderlin designs systems that allow for gathering, storage, organization, retrial, correlation and analysis of the massive amounts of data generated by Oath, which is one of the world’s largest online media and entertainment companies. In addition to his primary job as a data engineer, he is an adjunct assistant professor of information technology at Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown, Virginia.
Sunderlin’s most rewarding part of working for Oath is integrating the data systems from two formally rival internet companies that have now been merged into one single company.
He believes that Shenandoah provided him with hands-on experience he would need in his career field with the school’s mini-computer and the then “new” microcomputers. With his work-study position, Sunderlin was able to build on his skill set outside of the classroom as well. Beyond the classroom, his work-study assignments were using the computers to help the school. “Having paid, hands-on experience with the smaller computers jump-started my career, allowing me to be competitive in the job market right from graduation,” said Sunderlin.
Sunderlin’s advice to students is: “Do whatever it takes to come out of college with experience as well as your degree. Develop a computer system for your fraternity/sorority or for your church, build your own (even small) app for the iPhone or Android, anything to demonstrate to an employer that you can build applications outside of the academic environment!”