Service-minded: Schreyer Scholar, volleyball standout eyes intelligence career

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Calvin Mende’s high school volleyball coach would open the gym long before school started to give his players time for extra practice. Some of them relished the opportunity more than others.

“Most kids didn’t want to wake up at 5 a.m.,” Mende said, “but I was really excited to do it.”

Now a sophomore opposite hitter for the men’s volleyball team and a Schreyer Honors Scholar majoring in security and risk analysis, Mende continues to throw himself into sport and school with enthusiasm and discipline. And the 6-foot-11-inch native of Redlands, California, would eventually like to apply that mindset to a career in intelligence.

“I just don’t have the will to settle for mediocrity,” he said. “If I know I can do something, then I’m going to do it. I don’t want to just kind of shrug through life, be satisfied doing the bare minimum. I want to feel like I’ve fulfilled my potential and that I’ve done the best I can do.”

Currently leading the Nittany Lions in kills per set (2.96 through 19 matches), Mende is also hard at work on his honors thesis, which he is writing about cyber sovereignty, or how nations define their rights to protect their cyber borders from other nations, or even their rights to retaliate.

“So far there has never been a war that’s started over that,” Mende said, “but we’re getting to that point.”

Mende’s honors thesis adviser is Jake Graham, a professor of practice in information sciences and technology who is also a faculty partner for the men’s volleyball team. Graham, a retired colonel in the United States Marine Corps, urged Mende to choose the intelligence analysis option for his major after teaching Mende in one of his classes.

“It was more of a dynamic process for me in that I wanted to focus on problem-solving and critical thinking instead of just the technical applications of implementing cybersecurity features into a system,” Mende said.

Mende has worked with Graham in the Red Cell Analytics Lab, a student organization in the College of Information Sciences and Technology — directed by Graham — that analyzes hypothetical and actual real-world threats through critical-thinking exercises. This past summer, Graham put Mende in charge of one of the teams during a project on disaster response and recovery that partnered with Penn State’s Applied Research Lab.

“It became apparent to me that he really is a problem-solver and he is somebody that wants to engage to make the world a better place,” Graham said.

Mende has a few more studies in mind after he completes his degree at Penn State.

“Law enforcement has always interested me, but I think I want to focus on a higher level, higher stage for that,” he said. “I’ve been looking at pursuing a juris doctor degree after my undergrad here. With that, I could focus on national security law, and hopefully apply that to protecting the nation on a national stage.”

Last Updated March 21, 2018