Inspiring innovation from IST to Africa

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of profiles on College of IST students and alumni who are utilizing the skills and knowledge they developed at Penn State to make an impact in a variety of industries.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jeffrey Kangar, a 2013 graduate of Penn State's College of Information Sciences and Technology, has always held high aspirations to improve the world. As founder of the newly established nonprofit organization Technology for Children: Africa, Kangar is turning his dream into reality.

The organization, which he created with friends in 2016, provides technology platforms, develops curriculum, and partners with schools in societies that cannot afford to provide children with the most basic technology education — mainly in African countries like the Ivory Coast, Liberia and Ghana. Kangar’s spirit of giving is the foundation of his work.

"I think it's all based on your journey,” he said. “Everyone has a story to tell. Be it if you're born with a silver spoon or you're born poor, everyone has a propensity to make change within the community. I think it's all based on what you aspire [to], but everyone has an obligation to give back to society.” 

Coming to the United States at 18 years old from the Ivory Coast — where Technology for Children: Africa will launch its first pilot location this fall with computers donated by Howard University — Kangar says he did not receive the highest caliber of education.

"We had Windows 95, maybe, so we weren't quite good with the education we needed from a technology standpoint,” he said.

His educational opportunities have improved, however, and Kangar now desires to give others what he did not have by using technology to inspire innovation in children.

“There still is a huge digital divide," he said, "so I talked to a couple friends of mine and we decided this is a huge opportunity to give back."

Connecting IST with a dream

During his time as an undergraduate in the College of IST, Kangar made connecting with advisers and professors a priority.

He credited these instructors with paving the way for his success. Professors like John Hill, retired senior lecturer in IST, encouraged Kangar to pursue an internship — an experience that he now cites as leading to many of his achievements. 

"It was just amazing because of lot of schools don’t stress internships, but the College of IST [requires one to graduate], and I know why," said Kangar. "If you don’t have the ability to see how the company works before graduating, you'll set yourself up for failure. Just understanding that really helped me."

After interning at Cigna, a worldwide health services organization, Kangar accepted a full-time position as a project manager for the company’s international offices. In that role, he led the Cigna team in migrating and upgrading endpoints to Windows 7 from Windows XP, remediating applications for them to work on the new platform for over 14,000 endpoints internationally.

Though he enjoyed his corporate experience, Kangar says there were problems he wanted to tackle that were beyond the public sector.

"Public health is a big deal, but one thing that’s most important to me is innovation,” he said. “If there is not an avenue to tap into that innovation and data, it becomes hard for students to have a better future.”

Kangar emphasized that students must change their mentality on how to be successful. When speaking with current IST students, he shares tips such as being persistent with advisers, asking about resources in the college, and viewing college as the real world.                            

"Penn State is such a diverse school. There are people from India, China, Europe, and all [around the globe],” he said. “Being able to relate to certain groups of people within the College of IST and Penn State is something I really admired, as well as their transparency to change.”

"If they are lacking in some way or shape or form and you bring it to someone’s attention,” he added, “there is that ability to affect change.”

Changing communities

For Kangar, Technology for Children: Africa is more than just a nonprofit organization, it’s a means of bringing effective change to his communities — something he exhibits more locally as the president of the Penn State South Texas Alumni Chapter.

Kangar and the chapter’s leadership team are working to organize events that provide donations to firefighting groups for children that have lost a parent in the line of duty, advance learning and volunteer work with local retirees, and help with outreach for popular San Antonio community events.

“The South Texas Chapter is unique in a sense that we have a lot of alums in and out of the South Texas region due to factors like military and family relocation,” he said. “I was looking for ways to give back to the University wherever I was, and I happen to find myself in Texas.”

“This is my way of using my degree from Penn State to do that,” he added. “I have a great network of alumni to tap into and effect change."

When he’s not connecting with alumni in his home community, Kangar and his Technology for Children: Africa team regularly meet with prime leaders from the Ivory Coast. He has visited Africa five times in the last few months ensuring that the infrastructure he brings aligns with the land laws and policies within the country, all in an effort to make it easier and more fun for children to learn.

"I want to go as far as the skies will let me,” he said. “There is a huge digital divide in Africa, and I want every kid to have access to technology. That can help with a lot of things, such as making sure they are educated and that they can compete in their fields. I want to give them an avenue to increase their learning.”

Last Updated July 05, 2018