Penn State IT staff inspires a future generation of professionals

Emma Riglin
February 22, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — On Thursday, Feb. 11, eight information technology professionals representing various domains at Penn State came together to educate College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) students about their professions during the college’s IT Career Panel.

The panelists, all working in information technology roles at Penn State, represented a wide breadth of fields including cybersecurity, data analysis, programming, user experience, IT business analysis and technical support. They gave students insight into their education, career history and current positions.

Rita Griffith, assistant director of professional development at the College of IST, said the panel was the second iteration of the Penn State IT shadow event held last year. Even in a virtual environment, the Office of Career Solutions and Corporate Engagement in the college is working hard this year to provide students with connections in various industries.

“It is important for students to talk with and learn from professionals that are currently in the industry,” said Griffith. “These events allow the IT professionals to provide valuable tips and sometimes even shortcuts to students to be better prepared to step into these roles upon graduation.”

Shawn Smith, director of software engineering at Penn State IT, served on the panel. A U.S. Navy veteran, Smith said he had many mentors throughout his career that helped him get to where he is now, and wanted to pay that kindness forward to the next generation of IT workers — as well as give them a glimpse of the lifelong learning they’ll experience.

"I hope we were able to provide some guidance to students that are still a bit unsure of the path they want to take,” said Smith. "Even after more than 30 years of doing this, I still study constantly. This industry moves very fast, which can be exciting, but also a bit daunting when you're starting out.”

Smith has experience in a variety of industries, eventually leading him to Penn State where he has helped evolve the technology that helps the University run. In addition to his IT position, Smith is also an adjunct professor in the College of IST.

“I like working in higher education and being able to remove some of the barriers that people face while pursuing their education,” said Smith. “I got my education through years of night school, blood, sweat and tears, and I hope that I can help someone that is fighting that kind of fight.”

Holly Swires, chief privacy officer at Penn State, was also one of the panelists in attendance. An alumna of Penn State, Swires is currently pursuing her master of professional studies in enterprise architecture and business transformation through Penn State World Campus, and will complete that program in May. She said the privacy field is rapidly growing, and took the opportunity as a panelist to let students know about the ample opportunities in the industry.

“It’s extremely valuable for our students to know what opportunities may be available to them after graduation, and even more, ones they may not be aware of,” said Swires. “The privacy professions are gaining a ton of traction, and as privacy regulations continue to expand, the need for privacy officers become critical.”

First-year cybersecurity analytics and operations student Richard Cheng attended the panel for a look into the day-to-day responsibilities of an IT professional and the steps he needs to take to position himself for a job in this industry. Cheng said he most enjoyed Swires’ presentation about the privacy industry — a topic he wasn’t familiar with before the panel.

“Holly Swires’ CPO job that dealt with privacy policies and legislations was the most interesting to me,” said Cheng. “Privacy is an important concept that will continue to grow, so by taking the time to understand [the field], I can better prepare myself to understand how privacy works and be a better force in privacy."

Cheng said he also enjoyed the other panelists’ insights and he gained perspective into how he can develop his skills and improve himself over the next four years before entering the industry.

“The College of IST should continue to hold these events to help first-year students gauge the day-to-day responsibilities of professionals and provide a way to get in touch with people that may be in a position where we might want to go.”

The college’s Office of Career Solutions and Corporate Engagement gives students access to hundreds of professionals to connect with as they prepare for their internships and careers.

“It is beneficial for students to see the whole University as their classroom and know that the whole community of Penn State is a resource,” said Griffith.

Last Updated March 04, 2021