Filling a need: A look back at the founding of IST’s annual career fair

Jessica Hallman
January 21, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As a Penn State student, Alison Flanigan saw an opportunity in the then-School of Information Sciences and Technology to connect the school’s industry partners with the strong pool of talent and unique skillsets that were coming out of IST.

“What I wanted to do was help fill the gap between IST’s internship requirement for students and the industry partners who were in need of this talent,” said Flanigan, a 2005 graduate of the College of IST.

That’s when the idea for an annual IST career fair was born. Flanigan envisioned an event filled with professional development activities for young interns, networking opportunities for full-time candidates, and a chance for companies to showcase their products and services so that students could make more informed decisions on who they wanted to work with.

Alison Flanigan

Alison Flanigan, Penn State class of 2005, pitched the idea for the College of Information Sciences and Technology's first career fair when she was a student at Penn State. Today she serves as a cyber-project manager for Booz Allen Hamilton. The College of IST will hold its spring career fair, Future Forum, on Jan. 28, 2019, at the Nittany Lion Inn.

IMAGE: Provided

Flanigan and a team of students shaped a business case that they presented to then-IST Dean Jim Thomas. The following year, the first Pro Expo career fair was held.

“Seeing the idea come to reality was magical,” said Flanigan. “You could see and feel the potential of the event and the impact it made for students.”

That first Pro Expo featured approximately 20 companies and 60 attendees. With this past year’s event welcoming 78 recruiters and 900 students seeking internships or full-time employment, the event has outgrown its initial home in the Westgate Building and is now held at the Nittany Lion Inn. The college has also added a second annual career fair, Future Forum, which is held each spring. The 2019 event is slated for Jan. 28.

In Flanagan’s eyes, much of what has made these specialized career fairs successful are the skillsets that make College of IST students stand apart.

“What makes IST very special is the bridging function of technology and business and being able to act as the translator,” she said. “Having the capability from a business perspective on tech and data, and how to make the best decision for your company and how to translate all the options.”

“What makes IST very special is the bridging function of technology and business and being able to act as the translator."

—Alison Flanigan, Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology, class of 2005 

Flanigan knows from experience. Not only did she earn her degree from the College of IST, but she has also gone on to recruit fellow graduates in the industry, first with IBM and now with Booz Allen Hamilton.

“I actually have hired three IST students when I was involved in the recruiting side of Booz Allen,” she said. “I was their direct manager for some time. There are a lot of IST graduates that work across our program. It’s great to have a little bit of a Penn State connection, with the IST piece as well.”

Now as a cyber-project manager for Booz Allen Hamilton, Flanigan still maintains ties to her IST experience by drawing on the skills and education she gained in the college, particularly from her project management class.

“A real company came in and sponsored a project for us to execute,” said Flanigan. “It really spoke to the special impact of IST and of being a translator that understands the tech side and the business side, and understanding how to make that solution work. That’s something I do all the time in my career.”

Flanigan, who manages a portfolio of about 300 employees on Booz Allen’s largest contract vehicles, advises current students to start thinking about their career paths early and often, and to take advantage of resources like the IST career fairs.

“Getting exposure and learning professional etiquette and gathering data about prospective employers are critical tools as young students are navigating their academic careers,” she said. “It will inform the decisions they make from electives, projects and research, as well as give them that broader exposure of what’s out there.”

“Your college experience is a time to stretch and grow and take calculated risks, so you can be informed and prepare for your professional career,” she added. “That would be my advice: Identify the opportunities that allow you to do that.”

That mindset has served Flanigan well, both professionally and personally.

Flanigan has three children, Charlotte, Jack and Emma, with her husband Eric, who also graduated from the College of IST. She met Eric by chance in one of their first IST classes.

“Professors were trying to get students to know each other,” Flanigan recalled. “They used randomizers to pick teams and pair up students. This particular professor used playing cards. Eric picked a king, and I also picked a king. We were on the same project team. Fourteen years later, we’re still together.”

Now that they’ve settled into their careers and started their family, the Flanigans plan to further strengthen their connections with the College of IST as alumni.

“I want to share some of the wisdom and lessons I’ve learned with folks who are just starting their careers. I want to give back what I’ve learned, so that they don’t make the mistakes I’ve made, and can grow and be better,” she concluded.

Last Updated January 28, 2019