College of IST welcomes record undergraduate class for fall 2018

Jessica Hallman
August 20, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The College of Information Sciences and Technology will welcome 204 new first-year students in the fall 2018 semester. This represents a 37 percent increase from last year and sets a record for undergraduate enrollment in the college.

While much of the growth can be attributed to the college’s cybersecurity analytics and operations degree program that launched in fall 2017, the college’s three other majors — data sciences, information sciences and technology, and security and risk analysis — continue to attract a greater number of high-caliber students from across the world.

To keep up with a growing and changing global demand, the college is evolving its programs and offerings. Nick Giacobe, assistant teaching professor and IST’s director of undergraduate programs, notes that students are eager to explore opportunities in these cutting-edge fields.

“Our students say they want to have an impact in their work,” he said. “IST’s programs show clear promise for potential for impact and meaning in their domains, and that’s why students are interested in them.”

Like the cybersecurity major, the University’s data sciences degree program — an intercollegiate initiative between the College of IST, College of Engineering, and Eberly College of Science — has also seen considerable growth since it launched in 2016. The program aims to provide students with the core skills and problem-solving approaches necessary to secure leading-edge analytics positions in industry, government and academia.

Giacobe explained that many students are interested in the data sciences because they can see its impact in their own lives, such as in services that make movie suggestions based on viewing history or product recommendations based on past purchases. As students advance in the program, they can focus on an industry domain of interest to apply their knowledge to virtually anywhere that data exists, such as using data sciences to provide business insights or healthcare interventions.

“The biggest thing that I like [about my degree] is that you don’t have to pick a domain to go into,” said Vince Trost, who graduated from the data sciences program this May. “There are opportunities everywhere for a data scientist. If you don’t like one domain or industry, you can leave and go to another. You become a mini expert in a domain wherever you do a data science project.”

While the cybersecurity and data sciences programs attract new groups of students, the IST and SRA programs continue to provide a solid foundation for the college's growth. Through software development or enterprise technology in the IST program or intelligence analysis in the SRA program, students are finding career success regardless of their major. Students from the incoming class note that this was an important factor in their college decision.

“I visited other universities, none of which offered such specific paths that appealed to me,” said Andrew Pacheco, a member of the college’s newest incoming class. “Where Penn State’s IST program truly stands apart from other colleges is the fact that many students secure jobs before they graduate. So many companies are in need of employees with the skill sets IST students acquire and companies know that Penn State prepares their students as well as possible.”

The college’s trending degree programs that reach in-demand job markets aren’t the only reason a record number of students are enrolling. Students and staff credit the college’s small-school feel with access to the University’s far-reaching resources as being attractive to incoming learners.

“The thing that sets us apart is that we are a small enough college to give excellent customer service,” said Angela Miller, IST’s director of undergraduate recruiting.

Miller explained, for example, that she personally calls all students whose application is incomplete prior to the deadline to provide information and answer questions that might be keeping them from completing their application.

“We try to give students and parents the resources they need in a very personal and intentional way,” she said.

That practice continues long after the recruiting process. IST students benefit from a variety of tools and resources to advance their academic and professional careers, such as two annual career fairs that welcome more than 100 organizations who recruit IST students for internships and careers.

“The college does an excellent job in staying current and understanding the future of technology jobs and what skills will be needed and preparing students for those jobs,” said incoming freshman Zoe Evans. “IST also prepares its students through its vast network of internship and career fair opportunities, giving its students real-life work experience to put what we will be learning into practice.”

The curriculum is constantly changing to keep up with technological innovation and stay relevant to industry demands, something Miller knows will benefit students both in and after their time in IST.

“What makes us different is that we are so tied to industry. We’re able to shift and fill needs,” she said. “That’s really unusual in an institution of this size.”

Concluded Giacobe, “We want our students to be engaged in the classroom, engaged in complementary extracurricular activities, and to become engaged through internships with potential future employers. The buzz is one of excitement and anticipation as we roll out new courses.”

Last Updated August 20, 2018