Paying it forward: Penn State alumni share career insights during NY trip

Jessica Hallman
November 12, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- When Nicholas Stannard, Shelly Gasperine and Georges Nkamicaniye graduated from the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) at Penn State in 2006, they didn’t have a large alumni network to draw from. The college, which opened its doors in 1999, had graduated its first class just three years earlier.

Today, the three alumni, along with fellow IST alumni Sujay Patel, 2014, are enjoying successful careers and want to pay forward their wisdom and knowledge to the next generation. In early October, they met with a group of current IST students who traveled to New York City to network with them. The trip was facilitated by the college’s office of career solutions and corporate engagement.

“This is an opportunity to play a role and help students grow and learn,” said Stannard. “We always want to make IST a little bit better and help students understand what it’s like to work in tech and drive home an exciting day of learning.”

The students spent the day asking questions about career paths after college in an alumni panel; interacting with the alumni one-on-one during a lunch mixer; and touring LinkedIn’s New York office, where Stannard serves as manager of customer success.

While the participating alumni all graduated from the College of IST, they are now working in vastly different domains. Stannard is with LinkedIn, while Nkamicaniye works for a large financial institution and Patel and Gasperine work for EY and PwC, respectively.

“Students got the sense that we all started at the same place but took completely different roads,” said Nkamicaniye. “I hope that students took away the message to relieve the pressure a little bit. Don’t lock yourself into a box, and be willing and open to explore different areas.”

“An IST student can literally go anywhere,” added Patel. “You can go work for anybody anywhere in any industry.”

IST in NYC 2

A group of College of Information Sciences and Technology students traveled to New York City in October, where they met with a panel of college alumni who are working in a variety of industries and also toured LinkedIn's New York office.

IMAGE: Brianne Lippert

“World-class” IST curriculum leads to career success

While much has changed in the College of IST since the alumni panelists graduated, many things remain the same – including the curriculum’s focus on group projects. The panelists stressed the importance of this coursework and how it is applied in the real world.

“The ability to work successfully as a part of one or many teams has been a crucial skill set that I learned with my IST degree,” said Gasperine. “This is a skill that IST helped to build starting in intro courses and that will continue in many facets in the workplace, including teaming with clients, peers, managers and contingent workers.”

Patel said that he was thankful for the holistic curriculum through which he learned everything from programming to how to package a product.

“IST teaches you how to apply the concepts you learned in the right setting,” he said. “This was helpful for me when I first started my career. There’s no way I would be where I am at this stage without those experiences.”

Recognizing that the industry is rapidly changing, Gasperine said that she also aimed to convey the importance lifelong learning for the students in attendance.

“Penn State and IST teaches you the skill of how to learn,” she said. “The skill sets that you will need in almost any career – especially those related to tech – will continue to change dramatically over time.”

“I want to make sure that students continue to raise their game at every level of their career, because it’s a competitive marketplace,” added Stannard.

Being in the workforce for a number of years, the panelists say they clearly see how the unique skill sets they gained in the College of IST have driven success in their careers.

“IST has a world-class curriculum, world-class faculty and world-class experience,” said Stannard. “Combine that together and that’s what makes an IST degree so valuable in the workplace.”

“The future of IST is in good hands”

The IST students who traveled to New York also benefited from this exclusive networking experience.

“I appreciated having experts who have walked in our shoes and made it in their careers give us first-hand professional advice and share their experiences with us,” said Joseph Tumwebaze, a first-year student majoring in information sciences and technology. “It was very encouraging and made us confident that we will also make it.”

Sydney Wehn, a second-year student majoring in applied data sciences, wants to live in New York City after she graduates and now, after taking this trip, wants to work for a company that is mission driven and will enable her to use her skills to help others.

“I want to continue to grind and work as hard as possible to be able to work at a prestigious company like those that were part of the panel,” she said.

In the end, the panelists hope that the current students feel like they are supported and have a strong alumni network to draw from.

“As an alumni group we care deeply about Penn State and the College of IST. We want students to know that they have an alumni group behind them cheerleading and supporting them to be successful.”

-- Nicholas Stannard, 2006 

“As an alumni group we care deeply about Penn State and the College of IST,” said Stannard. “We want students to know that they have an alumni group behind them cheerleading and supporting them to be successful.”

For Nkamicaniye, the experience served as a platform for him to give back to Penn State.

“It goes back to having a greater sense of purpose above and beyond working and earning an income,” he said. “There’s more to it.”

One thing is for certain: the alumni are proud to be a part of the IST community.

“The future of IST is in good hands with these students,” said Stannard. “I couldn’t have been more excited to spend time with them.”

Last Updated November 12, 2018