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The IT Angel Who Saved My Academic Life

Published on April 19, 2013 by Tiffany Coleman

Author’s note: I normally do not write stories about my personal experiences. But after an information technology student at Broadview University saved my academic life, I had to inform the world about my new IT angel.

(MERIDIAN) The day my thumb drive crashed started just like any other. It was April Fool’s Day—the first day of spring quarter classes. I am entering the final quarter that will complete my master’s degree in management from Broadview University, and I had just taken a look at my online course content. I have a ritual of downloading course syllabi and any other information I need on the first day of classes. For nearly two years, I have been saving everything—and I mean everything—onto a precious 4GB thumb drive.

information technology degree, IT

Tanner Johnston (right) is a second-year student in the information technology program at Broadview University-Boise. He successfully rescued a master’s degree program and more than two years of files from a crashed thumb drive.

I was just about to download the latest information I needed when it hit me. I needed to back up the previous coursework I have on my thumb drive—and save it to a portable hard drive. In goes the thumb drive; up goes a pop-up box. Paraphrasing here, it states something like, “Hey, you computer illiterate, non-backing up fool… There’s something wrong with me. Do you want to fix me? Select ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”

Hmmmm. Well, if I want it to work, then I had better select ‘yes.’ But before I could ease my forefinger away from sending a confident click, I knew I was no longer in charge. Another box popped up informing me that I needed to format the drive in order to use it. Say what? Uh oh. PANIC! I backed away from the computer without touching anything else and hurried down the hall. In shock and about to break into hysterics, I am on the hunt for the only person I can think of who may be able to help—the school’s head techno geek.

Unfortunately, he is nowhere to be found. Back to my desk, I slowly remove the thumb drive from my computer and call it a day. I console myself by saying no one does homework on the first night of classes, anyway.

The next day, I am determined to find Tim Thorson—the school’s information technology program chair. Like a hunter high up in a tree stand wearing a Ghillie suit, I sit and patiently wait. A short time later, I find him. I quickly explain what happened and ask if there is any way to retrieve the information. I had recently sat through a guest speaker in one of Thorson’s classes whose “hobby” is data recovery. The speaker—who owns a local company named the Custer Agency—is the kind of guy who buys old computers and hacks them just to see what he can find. I was hoping Thorson knew some hidden secret data recovery trick. It turns out that he did—well, maybe he did. No guarantee. Our school just happened to have a student intern working at Neal Custer’s company named Tanner. Thorson said he could give the thumb drive to Tanner as a project to see what he could find. With everything and nothing to lose, I instantly said yes.

A few days later, I asked for an update—nothing yet. Early the following week—still nothing. A few days after that I arrived at work and a coworker told me Tanner has something for me—but she didn’t have it because Tanner wanted to give it to me himself. Practically speechless, I instantly knew that “something” was actually everything. Where’s Tanner? The hunt resumes.

I didn’t catch up with Tanner until a few days after that. I found him in a class I was invited to in order to listen to yet another guest speaker. I sat through the guest’s entire presentation just so I wouldn’t lose track of Tanner again. As soon as the speaker left, I told Tanner’s classmates what happened and why I was there. He explained that my old thumb drive was a goner, but he got a new one and had transferred all of my newly recovered files on to it—photos, music, PowerPoint presentations, classwork for 10 entire master’s degree-level courses, the work for my final graduate class project—and everything was there.

So the next time you hear about a thumb drive dying, there may be hope. The angel who saves you may be disguised as an IT student. Mine ended up saving my entire academic life—and getting the biggest hug ever because of it. Thank you, Tanner!

And a special thanks to Tim, for teaching our students such invaluable skills as part of their unique learning experiences at Broadview University.

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