IST alumni volunteer paves her way in cybersecurity industry

Jessica Hallman
March 25, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — “If we can get more alumni involved, it will only benefit the students.”

That’s according to Madison Oliver, a 2016 graduate of the College of Information Sciences and Technology and current member of the IST Alumni Society board. She volunteers to help pay forward the rewarding experience she had at Penn State and to inspire other young women who are preparing to work in the tech industry.

“As a female who is doing pretty well in a male-dominated field, I feel that I can help other women feel more comfortable with what they’re doing,” she said.

Though she knew she’d be underrepresented in the industry, she began her cybersecurity training before her college career officially began. As a high school senior, she dual-enrolled at Penn State Greater Allegheny, where she was able to take introductory security and risk analysis courses.

“That’s what solidified it for me,” she said.

Her decision to pursue an SRA degree was further confirmed that same year, when she attended a weekend-long Women in STEM event hosted by the College of IST at University Park.

“As a female who is doing pretty well in a male-dominated field, I feel that I can help other women feel more comfortable with what they’re doing."

— Madison Oliver, Penn State class of 2016 

“As soon as I walked into the building, I knew that was it,” she said. “We took a tour of the building, talked to professors and toured labs and facilities. Everything was just so interesting.”

During her next four years at Penn State — which included four internships — she immersed herself in the academic environment both in and outside the classroom.

“[Former professor] Gerry Santoro was great. He encouraged us to keep learning outside the classroom,” she said. “It was inspiring how much he cared.”

Oliver also was an inaugural member of the college’s Competitive Cyber Security Organization. The organization participated in the national Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition as its first group activity, placing in the top 10.

“It was nice to be with a group of other people who knew as much as or more than I did,” she said. “We could learn how to do these things together that we didn’t have the chance to do in the classroom.”

Some of the connections that she made with other students are still lasting today. In fact, her now-husband, Zachary Mullins, is also a 2016 graduate of the college. While the couple met and started dating in high school, they both dual-enrolled at Greater Allegheny and then came to University Park to start their college careers.

Many friends they met in the College of IST were at their 2018 wedding.

“We’re still friends with these people and meet up several times a year,” Oliver said. “The friendships we’ve been able to form and maintain have been awesome.”

In addition to lifelong social connections, Oliver says she gained confidence, time management and teamwork skills, and a well-rounded education in the College of IST. After leaving Penn State, she earned her master of science in information security policy and management from Carnegie Mellon University, and now serves as an associate vulnerability analyst in the CERT Coordination Center at the Software Engineering Institute in Pittsburgh.

“I think the College of IST is fantastic,” Oliver said. “It prepared me very well for my career while also preparing me for dealing with people in the real world.

“I had the perfect balance of school learning while also growing as an individual from ages 18 to 22, which were very formative years for me,” she concluded. “Being able to do that at Penn State with a group of people that I still talk to today was very awesome for me.”

Last Updated April 15, 2019