IST alumna develops tech to help combat child abuse

Jessica Hallman
July 02, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — While she was a student in the Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology, Kathryn Bogniak Miller, a 2004 alumna, never imagined that she’d one day put her degree to use in child welfare services.

But she knew she wanted to make a difference in the lives of victims of child abuse. With her background as a volunteer crisis pregnancy counselor, combined with her faith and her role as a mother, Miller decided to make a career change.

“As a Christian, I felt led to serve,” she said. “Also, once becoming a mom, I had to feel very passionately about my work to endure day care drop-offs.”

Her focus is within government consulting and health and human services as a senior manager at Deloitte, now specializing in child welfare services. In this role, she has implemented systems that are used to track child abuse and other child welfare case management processes that are used by state government agencies.

“I’ve been using my IST degree to deliver some of the most critical benefits to the most needy of clients,” said Miller. “It’s awesome to see the possibilities of using technology to make these painful situations easier to manage for caseworkers and families, and having the skills to innovate how newer technologies can continue to enhance keeping kids safe.”

“I’ve been using my IST degree to deliver some of the most critical benefits to the most needy of clients.”

— Kathryn Miller, class of 2004, information sciences and technology

Unfortunately, Miller notes, these situations are more common than many realize, and it takes a coordinated effort to help those at risk.

“We need to detect potential abuse, share the information with the right people, and help prevent or put a stop to it,” she said.

She added, “I know that when I drop my kids off at day care that I leave them with the purpose of making the world a safer place for them and other kids to grow up in. That keeps me going.”

Filling a critical need

Miller has come a long way since she first arrived at Penn State in 2000 — just a year after the then-School of IST opened. While it was a relatively new program, her father, who worked for IBM, told his daughter that IST was filling a critical educational space: developing professionals who understand business and technology and who can serve as the liaison between the two.

“We knew that we were guinea pigs in those first few years of classes,” said Miller. “But, I recognized that there was a growing need in the market that maybe I didn’t fully understand at the time. I needed to trust that the program was preparing me for that need.”

That mindset led her to her first job after graduation, serving as a consultant for IBM where she worked with the Department of Defense before moving on to Deloitte. In her career, she draws on the foundation and skills she developed at IST.

“I’ve gone from gathering requirements, creating designs, managing development and testing to managing large projects,” she said. “I’ve needed to understand the technology, while also learning the details around the programs that I work with, their policies, and their business processes.”

Prior to working on child welfare issues, Miller used her IST skills to develop systems for disease surveillance and insurance eligibility.

Like many students, Miller was not always sure how she would apply what she was learning in the classroom to the real world. Now, with years of professional experience under her belt, she is able to connect the dots.

“I can now see how it was completely training me for the career path that I chose,” she said. “[The curriculum] was about being able to analyze the abilities of different technologies and choose the best solution for a problem statement. Even still today, as we innovate, I use the skill of learning just enough about the newer technology to assess its applicability to solve business problems.”

Finding community at Penn State

More than just her degree, Miller also found community on campus.

She lived among classmates and friends in the IST Interest House in the Pollock Housing Area. There, she developed friendships with like-minded IST students that would last through her college years and beyond — ultimately helping her in the classroom.

“It was very beneficial that we had all the same IST classes,” she said. “We could work together on projects and help each other understand what we were learning. It was nice to have people right next door to be able to work with.”

She added, “They were also an instant set of friends to eat meals with and learn how to be adults and gain independence together.”

Miller also developed an affinity for supporting the Nittany Lions — both through her position as a piccolo player with the Penn State Blue Band, and through regular support of the Penn State women’s basketball team.

Miller attended Lady Lion games as part of the pep band and quickly became excited by the players’ talent and perseverance. Eventually, Miller recruited a number of her male friends from the Blue Band — including her now-husband, Aaron (class of 2004, mechanical engineering) — to go to every home game and support the team. 

“That was one of my first experiences managing 20 men,” she said.

Katie Miller

Katie Miller, class of 2004 (information sciences and technology), with her husband, Aaron, class of 2004 (mechanical engineering), and their two children.

IMAGE: Provided

In an indirect way, that experience was one of many that positioned Miller to be an empowered woman in her career. 

“While companies are doing a good job of making sure there’s a diverse workforce,” she said, “it is still intimidating to walk into a room and realize you’re the only woman. I’ve learned to be prepared and to equip myself with the mentors and tools to overcome the challenges.”

As a professional with more than 14 years of industry experience, Miller is excited to see how the College of IST has grown and evolved since she was a student.

“For an industry that recruits top students, it’s important to be able to see that schools are continuing to evaluate their courses and align majors to where technology is going and where the demands are,” she said. “IST has really demonstrated that and become known for innovation and innovating within itself.”

Miller advises students to take advantage of the many opportunities offered in the College of IST and to keep an open mind when it comes to planning their career paths.

“I had a limited view on what it would look like getting a job in IT and ended up in a career that is very fulfilling,” she said. “Working in human services and helping people is something I didn’t imagine as being possible with my degree, but I’ve learned the opportunities are endless.”

Last Updated July 02, 2019