Scholarships help aspiring IST entrepreneurs pursue degrees, business ventures

Emma Riglin
August 29, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Each year, Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology students are able to advance their education thanks to the generosity of scholarship donors. For many, that support also enables them to pursue experiential opportunities. Alexander Mellott, senior in security and risk analysis, and Jacob Makarsky, senior in information sciences and technology, are two of those students.

Mellott and Makarsky are the 2019 recipients of the David Rusenko Emerging Entrepreneur Scholarship and the David Rusenko Entrepreneur-in-Residence Scholarship, respectively. Thanks to these financial awards, the two are able to advance their entrepreneurial ventures while continuing their studies.

Keeping the entrepreneurial spark alive

Interested in technology since he was six years old, Mellott came to the College of IST due to its strong reputation and for the opportunity to continue his entrepreneurial venture, which he started in his sophomore year of high school.

His idea was born while completing a project creating promotional videos for his school district’s career and technical education programs. Mellott realized the need in his community for a centralized promotion service company. He wanted to create something that would cover any promotional efforts that a small business or startup would need, such as social media marketing, IT services and graphic design. In March of 2014, during his sophomore year of high school, Mellott founded his company, Clearpoint Business Group.

Mellott embodies the spirit of his scholarship’s benefactor, David Rusenko, who started his own business as a junior in the College of IST. He appreciates Rusenko’s commitment to inspiring future entrepreneurs, a shared passion between the two.

“I got started drawing up the paperwork for my first LLC in a high school, employing fellow Penn State students in the market segments my business serves and providing mentorship back to high school and college students looking to become entrepreneurs themselves,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of current business leaders to educate the future generation and keep the entrepreneurial spark alive!”

Though he has a strong entrepreneurial spirit, Mellott said he was surprised to even be considered for the scholarship he received, knowing there are many talented aspiring entrepreneurs in the college. But he took a chance and applied because he knew that it could lead to the opportunity to learn more about what it means to run a company.

“I decided to apply for this scholarship because not many college students have the experience of starting a business,” said Mellott. “I felt that applying for this scholarship would help provide me additional resources to further my business."

He added, “This scholarship will help me finish my final year of college and give me peace of mind to continue growing my business, not having to worry about how I’ll finish paying for college.”

After he graduates in May 2020, Mellott hopes to work in information technology for a defense contractor or the U.S. government while continuing his entrepreneurial pursuits with his company. He attributes much of his success to his entrepreneurship experience and encourages everyone to consider starting their own business.

“I believe getting started with entrepreneurship at an early age is a great way to hone not only your professional development, but also skills you’ll need for the rest of your life,” he said. “It’s an experience everyone should go through at least once. Whether you succeed or fail isn’t the nexus for scoring yourself: It’s what you learned through the process.”

Realizing true potential

Makarsky first became interested in design and programming through video games, which he said he had wanted to make since he was old enough to hold a controller. An entrepreneur from a young age, Makarsky said he was always finding ways to make money as a child — such as making flyers, reselling yard sale finds, and completing online surveys.

Now, as a Penn State student, his latest venture is a cryptocurrency betting service, called LiveBet. Makarsky came up with the idea during his study abroad program and internship in China last summer, where he learned that cryptocurrency is very popular in that country. Through his internship he met another student who had an interest in sports betting, and the two developed LiveBet.

“The service will allow anyone to bet on anything in real time with low betting fees,” Makarsky said. “A user will be verified, put in a debit card and then be able to begin betting. Behind the scenes, cryptocurrency is used, allowing for a very secure system of money movement and extremely low fees.”

A change-of-campus student, Makarsky pursued a different major before he found his true home in the College of IST at University Park.

“IST has helped me make more room for my other ventures,” he said. “Penn State has harbored the resources that have led me to where I am today. Innoblue, [a Penn State student organization for aspiring entrepreneurs], harbors a fantastic entrepreneur community. It helped me realized more potential I never had seen in myself and gave me more confidence in the business world.”

When Makarsky found out how much he had in common with David Rusenko, he felt compelled to apply for the scholarship.

“Mr. Rusenko was once a member of Innoblue doing the same things I was doing,” he said. “I dream to be in his position one day, being able to offer scholarships to fellow Penn State entrepreneurs making a difference in our community. [Like him,] I am hoping to use entrepreneurship to help others find their passions in the Penn State community.”

He added, “This scholarship will greatly help me in my academic and professional pursuits, especially considering my college career is [being paid] entirely out of my own pocket. Not only did it help me financially, but it helped provide validity to myself in my pursuits.”

Makarsky plans to move to California and run his startup after graduation.

“I believe entrepreneurship can give a person the toolset to find and chase their passions, so they can live a happier life,” said Makarsky. “I’ve realized that entrepreneurship has given me the confidence to chase anything I truly enjoy doing, regardless of the hardships coming with it.”

About the scholarships

In 2012, College of IST alumnus David Rusenko, class of 2007 started a scholarship fund for students who are interested in technology-based entrepreneurship.

Rusenko, CEO and co-founder of Weebly, a San Francisco-based start-up that offers free, easy-to-use website-building tools, donated $400,000 — the largest gift to the College of IST from a graduate in its history — to establish the David Rusenko Entrepreneur-in-Residence Scholarship and the David Rusenko Emerging Entrepreneur Scholarship.

Rusenko developed the idea for his company — which TIME named one of the 50 Best Websites — during his time in the College of IST. He wanted to give back to the college to be able to help other students like him develop their ideas.

“My goal [in supporting the scholarships] is to inspire and help students with big ideas and ambitions to focus on starting something and changing the world,” said Rusenko.

The David Rusenko Emerging Entrepreneur Scholarship, which is available to full-time freshmen or sophomores enrolled in the College of IST with entrepreneurial potential, provides students up to $5,000 per year.

The David Rusenko Entrepreneur-in-Residence Scholarship, which is open to juniors and seniors in the College of IST that have entrepreneurial experience, provides the support of a faculty mentor, the opportunity to earn six credits while working on an entrepreneurial idea, and $10,000 per year.

Last Updated August 30, 2019