Adam Soper: Entrepreneur and Web Designer — all while a student

Adam Soper, 2017 UIS Online graduate in Computer Science
Adam Soper

Adam Soper grew up in Mt. Zion, Illinois, where he was homeschooled by his mother from kindergarten through high school.

By the time he graduated with his bachelor’s degree in computer science, he had already designed and launched www.AmericanRetailUSA, a retail website, representing hundreds of American manufacturers and thousands of products, and visited by thousands of shoppers every day.

In his own words, here’s his story.

How did you end up in computer science?

While at Richland Community College, I grudgingly signed up for the first of two required computer science courses. Halfway through my first class, I was hooked! After finishing at Richland, I was subsequently accepted to the online Computer Science program at UIS as a junior. I thought I would focus on creating mobile applications. I discovered instead that I love web design and that’s what I plan to do. I graduated in 2015.

What was your experience like as an online computer science student at UIS?

I learned so much from all of my classes and professors, but three really stand out to me:

  • CSC 385 Data Structures and Algorithms with Roger West,
  • CSC 388 Programming Languages with Sviatoslav Braynov, and
  • CSC 470 Apple Development with Thomas Sidener.

All were tough courses, but the professors were really good at breaking down complex material and constructing projects that got me out of my programming comfort zone, broadening my understanding and approach to algorithm design and software development. They changed the way I thought about solving problems by encouraging me to think outside-the-box for solutions.
In my final project for CSC 470 Apple Development, I created a game app where the goal was to catch chickens falling from the sky. I went into the class knowing absolutely nothing about Apple programming or the language Objective-C. I had never even used an Apple computer.

By the time I was done I had learned a new operating system and a new language and had created an app that was a lot of fun to play (it looked pretty cool too!).

In my final class at UIS we were split up into teams to work on a large class project. Given the sometimes difficult aspects of group projects, I was a bit nervous, but I was teamed up with two talented guys, Ransom Brown and Joshua Arcand. Both had a great grasp of computer programming and software design.

Our task was to create a game/application from scratch, complete with an installer package and documentation. We decided on a running obstacle game, split the work, and developed specialties very quickly. Ransom was exceptional at graphic design and animations, while Josh was exceptional at sound effects, music, and sound implementation. I don’t know what I would’ve done without both of them that semester!

Please tell us the story of your business and its success:

American Retail is an online shopping guide for American made products that started out as a simple experiment while I was still at UIS. After years of seeing more and more imported products on store shelves and seeing the impact it had on the gradual decay of manufacturing towns like the one I call home, I wondered how many things I personally owned that were made by American hands. So I pulled everything out of my rather packed closet I found just 4 items: 3 t-shirts and a pair of socks.

It was at that moment I realized I wanted to do something to support American manufacturing. After a bit of American made product searching at stores—a daunting task—I created an Instagram account dedicated to showcasing the products and companies that I found. Then people would have to duplicate my own searches.

By mid-January of 2014 our account was up and running, but after about a year of social media postings featuring hundreds of products and companies, I was having a hard time keeping up with older posts, especially because I was still taking classes at UIS.

At the same time, I began a web design class at UIS and instantly realized a website was the perfect solution. After the class was over, I reserved a domain name, bought some server space, and began the long- journey of building a website.

It first I simply listed the manufacturers featured on our Instagram feed, but by 2015, we had a working catalog showcasing manufacturers by category. By 2016, our latest iteration, which you can find at americanretailusa.com, was complete.

Our mission is to help people connect with products made by American hands, not to add to the burden of American industry. So every feature on our website is given 100% free of charge to the manufacturer.

Today, we include hundreds of manufacturers, both big and small, and list thousands of products, representing well over 30,000 American jobs—and we add more every day. Thousands of shoppers access the site every day.

Would you recommend UIS’ online computer science degree?

Yes, I would. UIS online is extremely flexible and the professors and department leadership are fantastic. I wouldn’t have been able to start my own web business without the knowledge and experience I gained at UIS.