IST students grow and connect at iSchool Inclusion Institute

Delaney Peterman
September 23, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Two students in Penn State's College of Information Sciences and Technology traveled to Pittsburgh in June to participate in a unique and competitive program. Their journey ahead would combine education, research and professional development to provide them with the ultimate summer learning experience.

Courtney Smith, a sophomore in security and risk analysis, and Adanna Nedd, a junior in information sciences and technology, were two of the three Penn State students selected to participate in the iSchool Inclusion Institute (i3) Scholar Program at the University of Pittsburgh. The program invites 20 to 30 underrepresented students from across the country to take part in an undergraduate research and leadership development programs.

Participants spend two summers in the program. The first summer, known as the introductory institute, lasts four weeks. During this time, students attend workshops and professional development sessions, including mentoring, resume-building and networking. They also learn about various design and programming tools. The last two weeks are focused on research, during which scholars are split into groups to begin their year-long research projects.

Smith recently completed her first summer in the program and is currently working on her research project, which deals with a prevalent issue.

"We developed a research question around the idea of stigma," Smith said. "We chose to do a topic on queer people of color and how they cope with societal stress using different technology."

Smith also said that if it wasn't for Nedd, whom she knew through Penn State's Millennium Scholars Program, she would not have gotten involved in the i3 program.

"After Adanna told me about the program, the director of i3 came to give an informational meeting so I went to that," Smith said. "I really liked that it was research-based, which is what made me want to apply."

Nedd just completed her second summer at i3, called the concluding institute. During this two-week session, students develop a research poster and present their final project. They also learn how to submit their project to the iConference, among others. They are even able to join the i3 Alumni Association, with which Nedd is already involved.

"I gained a lot of wonderful connections and made a lot of friends. The greatest part was coming back and seeing everyone I hadn't seen in a year," Nedd said. "I joined the alumni association after my first institute. We're currently planning a reunion because next year is i3's 10th anniversary."

Smith and Nedd were joined by fellow Penn State undergraduate student Carlos Norman at this year’s program, as well as College of IST doctoral candidate Joslenne Peña — one of four teaching fellows selected to lead the i3 program. Peña has been at Penn State since 2013, where she earned a master's degree in IST and is now working on her doctoral degree in informatics.

Peña's primary focus was not research-based but related to education. She was chosen as one of two programming-module teaching fellows. Along with designing a syllabus and schedule for her class, Peña exposed the scholars to various tools that can be used in both research and programming.

"As a researcher and potential programmer, your job is to sift through tools and identify what's important for you and your project," Peña said. "We try to help them identify their problem and what tools or technology they need to help solve it."

The program blends technical skills and tools to excel in the College of IST, as well as in future careers.

"It helped me out in ways I didn't even think it would help me out originally," Nedd said. "It has something for everyone."

"We wanted to make sure the experience is worthwhile, fun, and there is some sort of takeaway, even if it's not an educational one," Peña added. "Even if it's not that you're an expert programmer, it could be that you have a little bit more knowledge that you can take to different problems or situations. It's breaking down those barriers."

Both unanimously agreed that the program creates a sense of community.

"I would definitely encourage [fellow IST students] to apply," Smith said. "Not only because i3 gives you a community of people to engage with constantly, but one of their sayings is ‘you're never fully gone from i3,' because we're a family.’"

Last Updated September 23, 2019