Making a Difference: Dean’s Fund helps student maximize his success

Erin Cassidy Hendrick
August 21, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — At the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST), innovation and engaged scholarship are two pillars that drive the college’s growth. Two crucial elements that support these ideals are the Dean’s Excellence Fund and the College of IST Future Fund, which offer unrestricted financial resources to address IST’s most pressing needs and create opportunities for students.

In the case of Zion Emanuel, an undergraduate student majoring in IST with an emphasis on design and development, these funds are providing the assistance he needs to reach his full potential.

As an accomplished high school graduate of the Academy of Health Sciences in Largo, Maryland, and a member of the Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA), a group working to increase underrepresented groups in technology, Emanuel arrived at Penn State with a passion for technology and numerous college credits under his belt. With his outstanding academic achievements, he earned a place in the Millennium Scholars Program, a prestigious initiative to foster students to become leading researchers in STEM fields.

“Our creed is excellence requires sacrifice and commitment,” Emanuel said.

Between his commitments to his classwork, the Millennium Scholars Program, and an undergraduate research project, it was an oath he was proud to live by. But in his second year at Penn State, he received an unexpected surprise.

He had earned a large number of college-level credits in high school, and when many of those credits counted toward courses he was planning to take at Penn State, he immediately earned junior status at the University. While usually a cause for celebration, Emanuel was faced with a roadblock. 

“It was unexpected because my tuition increased more than I could afford, and I wasn’t ready for that,” he said.

With his scholarships and loans falling short, he was at a loss for how to cover the rest of his bill. After consulting with Jason Gines, the director of IST’s Office of Inclusion and Diversity Engagement, he found a solution through the Dean’s Excellence Fund.

“The fund was able to fill the gap for [Emanuel] at a time of his greatest need,” Gines said.

Added Emanuel, “When you’re in college, it’s more difficult than you first imagine. This [funding] took away a lot of added stress so I was able to focus.”

Now he’s able to concentrate entirely on his academic pursuits. With that determination applied fully to the education he’s earning in the College of IST, Emanuel said he hopes to revolutionize the field of technology.

“The college focuses on technology and how it can impact the future; it’s how we make lives easier through hardware, software, security or anything to just make it better.”

Emanuel is demonstrating this in his undergraduate research. Working with Stephen Haynes, associate professor of IST, he is aiding in the development of Easel, a mobile app aimed at helping students get the most out of their classes.

The app is a way for teachers to accurately gauge their student’s skill levels when they begin a class. For instance, in a class that involves coding, in-app assignments can let the teacher know who came to the class with more experience. By identifying these students and pairing them accordingly, instructors are able to not only assist students who need extra help but also challenge those who can tackle more stimulating work. 

“Right now, we are focusing on using it at IST, but in the future, it can be for any professors,” Emanuel said. “It’s our hope that all students can be equally engaged in their classes.”

Through all his various academic pursuits, Gines is confident he’ll be able to make an impact.

“[Zion] possesses the rare combination of stellar intellectual ability, artistic creativity, and diligent work ethic that are often markers of highly successful people,” Gines said. “The power of these funds is that they remove financial burdens from students in need, which for many underrepresented populations remains the largest barrier to degree completion.”

Emanuel is grateful to the donors who supported these funds. Though the contributions often come through smaller gifts, the generosity is allowing him to focus on his studies and devote himself to the Millennium Scholars Program without additional financial burdens.

“The fund truly changes lives,” said Gines.

Emanuel agreed and noted, “It really makes a difference.”

Emanuel’s story highlights the impact of gifts from Penn State’s alumni and friends, which have been essential to the success of the University’s historic land-grant mission to serve the public good. To fulfill that mission for a new era of rapid change and global connections, the University has begun "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a fast-paced campaign focused on the three key imperatives of a public university. Private support will keep the door to higher education open and enable students to graduate on time and on track to success; create transformative experiences on Penn State campuses and around the globe that tap the full potential of Penn Staters to make a difference; and impact the world through discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more, visit

Last Updated August 23, 2017