Penn State junior Jessica Strait named Cargill Global Scholar

Sean Yoder
August 07, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jessica Strait, a Penn State junior studying Applied Data Sciences, has earned a spot in the 2020 Cargill Global Scholars program.

With 10 awardees named each year, the program provides a scholarship of $2,500 per year for up to two years, participation in a group leadership development seminar and pairing with a Cargill business leader who will serve as their mentor over the next year.

The fourth-generation Penn Stater said she is most looking forward to connecting with her mentor, Monica Varner-Pierson, who leads a team in the development of technology and data management systems at Cargill.

“In our first meeting, she [Monica] gave some excellent insight on how data scientists must bridge the communication gap from business problems to technical solutions,” Strait said. “My hope is that while my coursework will prepare me for the technical side of a data science career, she can offer a look into how data science is being applied to solve business problems within an agricultural powerhouse.”

Strait, of Abingdon, Virginia, said after attending a career and technical education school she knew she wanted to work in computing. Her program of Applied Data Sciences in the College of Information Sciences and Technology allows for an application focus, and Strait chose food science.

Portrait of Jessica Straight

Jessica Strait is an Applied Data Sciences major from Abingdon, Virginia.

IMAGE: Provided

“I’m interested in working in agricultural supply chains with my analytics background,” she said. “I believe that agriculture and resource management is the next big field where data science can really make a difference on a global sustainability scale.” 

Strait currently works as an advanced analytics and data science intern at MetLife on a “natural language processing algorithm to assist in claim referral automation.” Last year she was involved in undergraduate research under Aiping Xiong, assistant professor of information sciences and technology in the College of IST. Strait is also a Schreyer Scholar, earning an academic excellence scholarship from the college. She also earned a Laphen Mentorship Program scholarship from the College of IST.

In summer 2021, Strait will participate in a five-day global leadership seminar with fellow Cargill Global Scholars, who hail from Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Russia. Students are selected for the program based on their exemplary academic achievement and leadership potential and come from academic fields that are relevant to Cargill’s world of food, agriculture and risk management. Strait is the fifth Cargill Global Scholar from Penn State. The next application cycle will begin in the fall. More information can be found at

Students interested in receiving help with this scholarship and other opportunities can contact Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Mentoring, a part of Penn State Undergraduate Education.

Last Updated August 07, 2020