IST lecturer to retire with accomplishments in diversity, industry

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jan Mahar Sturdevant, senior lecturer of information sciences and technology (IST) at Penn State, is retiring after 17 years with the college. During her career, she has taught a variety of courses at IST; the Rady School of Business at the University of California, San Diego; and Portland State University’s doctoral program in engineering technology management. She also was the recipient of the 2014-15 McMurtry Award for her work to provide an exceptional learning experience in the online environment for undergraduates.

However, Sturdevant considers her most impactful work the creation of the Tech Savvy Camp, a major initiative to educate economically disadvantaged middle school girls on STEM careers. “It completely rocked the school, no one had done it before,” she said.

Based on research demographics and socioeconomic need, she found school districts in Pennsylvania that could benefit from the program and worked tirelessly to engage them, including traveling with the buses from the inner city of Philadelphia, chaperoning the students while staying in the dorms, and educating them on science and technology. “That is my biggest achievement, pursuing my passion for recruiting females into STEM,” Sturdevant said.

In the original iteration, the camp ran for three years and educated more than a hundred girls. “The goal was for girls to understand science and technology can be fun and that they can do it!” she said.

Promoting female diversity hits close to home for Sturdevant. When she began her professional career in 1970, she was one of the few female engineers working at IBM. “I didn’t want girls to have to repeat what those in my era had to go through,” she explained.

In fact, to help challenge stereotypes about women in the workplace, she would ask her assistant to use only her first initial on all her correspondence. “When someone would call me, they’d always ask for Mr. Sturdevant,” she said. “I would count to 30 and then say ‘This is she.’ Then there would be another 30 second pause as they recovered!”

She earned more than 30 years of professional experience working for IBM in their laboratory, manufacturing, statistical modeling research, and 3D graphic corporate office. “Women had to get more involved,” Sturdevant said. “We think differently, we solve differently.”

She also served as the assistant director of Business and Career Solutions for IST, providing strategic leadership and business planning that improved IST students’ post-graduation outcomes to among the highest rates at the University.

“I am so glad I had the opportunity to serve as a learning assistant for Professor Jan in my IST career,” said Lauren Zieziula, a senior majoring in security and risk analysis. “Her hard work, dedication to her students, ability to adapt swiftly, and [her] patience are key tokens I will take with me when I graduate.”

While educating hundreds of IST students both online and in residence classes, Sturdevant was awarded more than $330,000 in grants from various chambers and the state to develop “PA FutureConnect,” which matched hundreds of undergraduate IST students with jobs at local tech companies throughout Pennsylvania. The grants subsidized half of the student’s wages, so startup and small businesses that couldn’t otherwise afford tech help were able to hire IST students. In turn, “[These part-time jobs] gave our students real-world experience, so they could get better internships and jobs,” Sturdevant said.

Engaging students with professional opportunities has always been a crucial tenet of Sturdevant’s teaching philosophy. “I came to IST because it’s about solving real world problems in today’s world,” she said.

In 2001, Sturdevant taught a class that paired with the State College Borough Police to develop technology-based solutions for the officers. Officers reported they often had trouble retrieving crucial information about buildings when they received emergency calls, like owner contact information or combination codes to enter facilities.

“It was as simple as creating an online app for their mobile device where they could key in an address and the number and get the access code,” Sturdevant said. The application was so popular that the New York Police Department (NYPD) contacted Sturdevant to have one created for their department. “That’s how we use technology and information to help people,” she explained.

As she enters retirement, Sturdevant said her plan is to “hug her grandkids more!” But she will always be grateful for her time teaching at IST. “One of the biggest things I remember about IST is that the employees are like family. I felt it when I first started working, they were really there for me,” she said.

Last Updated May 08, 2017