IST alumnus advises federal leaders on information technology policy matters

Jessica Hallman
March 30, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.— As U.S. citizens engage with the federal government for their digital needs such as enrolling in government benefits online or completing the census online for the first time, a Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology alumnus is working behind the scenes to enable the successful delivery of the federal government’s digital services.

Jordan Burris, a 2011 graduate, serves as the chief of staff for the federal chief information officer in the Office of Management and Budget — a branch of the White House. His main duties are to advise political and executive leadership on policy matters related to information technology and cybersecurity, including bringing federal agencies to the digital age.

“Part of my office’s mission is to drive digital service delivery in the federal government,” said Burris. “As an example, the Census Bureau is transforming the way it operates from being very manual and paper-based — during the last one the primary means of collecting information was going door to door. Now, we want to improve the user experience and make the information easy to submit from the comfort of one’s own home.”

According to Burris, he gets personal and professional satisfaction by helping the U.S. government — and other organizations and their constituents — advance their missions using technology.

“Every day I have the opportunity to engage with senior leaders across the federal government, and help agencies with diverse missions deliver outcomes for the American public,” Burris said. “The reason I joined the federal government was the scale of the mission and the ability to make a positive improvement — it is truly the most rewarding experience.”

A well-rounded perspective at the College of IST

Burris earned his degree in 2011 from the College of Information Sciences and Technology’s security and risk analysis (SRA) program. What he learned on campus perfectly positioned him for both his first job after graduation as a consultant at Deloitte, and for his current role.

Jordan Burris

Jordan Burris

IMAGE: Provided

“The SRA program allowed me not only to explore cybersecurity, but also get a well-rounded perspective on information assurance, socioeconomic considerations and business management practices,” he said.

He added, “The best skill I gained from SRA was learning how to be thrown into a situation and work toward a solution without much context — something I learned from those early consulting classes. That transfers to all roles I have today. At any moment in time there is a new task or emergent item that I need to address.”

While the security and risk analysis program was fairly new at the time Burris was enrolled at Penn State, he chose the major after taking an introductory information sciences and technology class during his sophomore year at Penn State’s Mont Alto campus.

“I discovered I had a knack for computers, but, until then, I didn’t know that IST had a suite of majors you could pursue,” he said.

That knack for computers led Burris to land a job as an IT consultant supervisor while still a student at Penn State, which continued after graduation. In that role he supervised operations of all computer labs at University Park — leading lab monitors to answer questions, troubleshoot printers and ensure resources were always available when students needed them.

“That role gave me an opportunity to lead a large set of team members, and to learn what it takes to operate at-scale for an organization such as Penn State,” he said.

A greater call

Burris said that his path to Penn State was somewhat unconventional. A Maryland native, Burris attended a Penn State information session in Baltimore while he was in high school, where he recalls the videos of the Blue Band, football team and other student life activities that were shown.

“I got a sense of community and family that really drove me toward the institution,” he said. “After that, I was sold on Penn State. I had to find a way to get there.”

And he did, spending his first two years at Mont Alto before transitioning to University Park. Burris said that the Baltimore session was the first in a series of chance circumstances that led him to his role today. He explained that a Penn State professor took notice of his skillset and recommended a path toward SRA. And, while Burris admits he didn’t have the best grades while in school, a recruiter at an IST career fair knew the caliber of students that came out of the school and gave him a chance at Deloitte.

“From there, there were nothing but opportunities,” he said. “I’ve learned to never be afraid to say yes to something and to recognize the power it may have to radically shape and alter your career.”

And that, he said, is why he took advantage of the chance to work for the federal government.

“For me, it was the greater call to serve the American public,” he said. “After serving a number of federal clients [as a consultant] and seeing the abilities they had, I wanted to impact them on a larger scale.”

He concluded, “I wanted to give back in some way. That made me say yes to the public sector.”

Last Updated April 07, 2020