Educational equity scholarship honors family legacy for IST alumni couple

Jessica Hallman
April 02, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For Angela Govila and Ankur Tarnacha, the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) is the foundation for everything they have.

The two first met as students in 2003, and Tarnacha soon after asked Govila out for a cup of coffee. The rest, they say, is history.

“We just started hanging out nonstop,” said Govila, who earned a bachelor’s degree in information sciences and technology in 2005. “I think we knew in the first few months that this was it.”

Now married with a 10-month-old daughter, Govila and Tarnacha credit the College of IST with much more than being a matchmaker. Their academic experiences at the college positioned them each for successful careers: She is head of digital at Chase for Business at JPMorgan Chase; he is the consulting director at IDC, a global provider of market research intelligence, advisory services and events for the information technology, telecommunications and consumer technology markets.

Because of all that IST has given them, Govila and Tarnacha have made a commitment to give back to the college, in the form of a $25,000 gift to create the Govila and Tarnacha Educational Equity Scholarship in the College of Information Sciences and Technology. Those funds have been matched 1:1 through Penn State’s recently concluded Educational Equity Matching Scholarship Program, creating an endowed scholarship of $50,000.

“Over the course of our lives since Penn State, not only has IST given us a family and a livelihood, it has given us careers. It’s the foundation for everything we have here."

— Angela Govila, class of 2005 

“Over the course of our lives since Penn State, not only has IST given us a family and a livelihood, it has given us careers,” said Govila. “It’s the foundation for everything we have here. So when we had a baby last year, we decided this was the time to give back and to take the steps to secure the legacy.”

The educational equity scholarship funds will support the financial needs of students whose gender, race, ethnic, cultural, and/or national background contribute to the diversity of the college and the Penn State community.

“Angela and Ankur’s story is one that celebrates not only the education they received at IST, but also the lifelong impact that their time at Penn State has made on them,” said Andrew Sears, dean of the College of IST. “We are thankful to them for paying it forward to help make that education and experience accessible to students from underrepresented backgrounds who face financial barriers.”

A testament to the IST program

Govila grew up in the Middle East and came to the U.S. to pursue higher education. She started at Penn State in the College of Engineering, and soon learned about the then-School of Information Sciences and Technology. After being introduced to IST and its interdisciplinary programs, she changed her major.

“We are products of the college [in its early years], and I think IST was really ahead of the curve on what students needed to meet business needs, and what those careers would look like,” said Govila, who said she had several job offers upon graduation.

“That’s just a testament to the program and to the fact that it’s a multidisciplinary skillset that you pick up,” she said. “I feel like IST leadership did a really great job setting up the program back then, and students are reaping the benefits of that now.”

Tarnacha came to Penn State for his master’s degree in electrical engineering after earning a bachelor's degree in electronics from Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology Allahabad in India. While completing his master’s program, he also worked as a teaching assistant at the College of IST. It was there where he met Carleen Maitland, associate professor of IST. She recognized that Tarnacha’s interests matched what the college’s programs offered, and encouraged him to pursue a doctoral degree in information sciences and technology.

“That was the beginning of my realization of how broad the knowledge base is and how I can apply design principles of economics and product design, to how markets are created and destroyed,” said Tarnacha, who earned his doctorate in IST in 2008. “I could choose a bunch of courses from various disciplines, like business, economics and computer science. It was a good broadening perspective.”

Tarnacha, who graduated in the college’s second class of doctoral students, said that the college’s academic pillars were applicable in the real world, and how, as an information school, IST was thinking about what students needed going forward in the information economy and built a curriculum around it.

“The value proposition was very attractive,” he said. “I was pretty confident that it was going to work out in a big way, which it did.”

Both Angela and Ankur draw on the knowledge they gained at the College of IST — which they both say was ahead of its time. Ankur’s doctoral thesis was centered on designing an information market akin to today’s mobile app stores — which didn’t exist until after he graduated — and Angela recalls an assignment in a 2004 class to design what a phone would look like in the future. She didn't know it at the time, but she and her classmates were essentially drawing and prototyping technology similar to the iPhone, which would come out two years later.

"We designed things in class that, at that time, the country hadn't yet solved. Penn State and IST have done such a great job in providing opportunities for students to engage and leverage that for career growth,” she said. “I didn't know it at the time, but I reflect back on all the things I learned at IST and rely all of those learnings in my job today."

That academic foundation, combined with the broad industry background of IST’s faculty, set the college apart.

“My advice to current students is to engage with your professors — not on a course by course basis but on things that interest you and that you want to explore that may or may not fall within the curriculum,” said Ankur. “Bounce your ideas off of them. It’s the people in your network at IST who let you explore your ideas and thoughts and help you become a well-rounded, balanced person.”

Angela added, "Don't get defined by the boundaries that exist. Create your own destiny."

Paying it forward

Both Govila and Tarnacha themselves benefited from scholarships while students at Penn State.

Govila said that she had a hard time adjusting to the undergraduate student culture in the U.S and her grades suffered in her first semester. She began taking 21 credits a semester to improve her GPA, and worked three jobs to financially support herself as much as she could. She also earned a few small scholarships, which helped ease some of the financial burden.

“The scholarships weren’t big, but I still remember feeling so grateful for getting picked for something like that because it helped me be more independent, pay rent, get food, and do simple things that people take for granted when you come from different backgrounds,” she said.  “So back then I had decided that when I get to a point where I feel comfortable enough, we’re going to give back.”

As a doctoral student at IST, Tarnacha completed his studies thanks to full scholarship funding.

“My education was paid for all those years,” he said. “It was almost a given that I pay that forward.”

Through an educational equity scholarship, the couple’s gift will benefit IST students from underrepresented backgrounds who have a demonstrated financial need for funds to meet their educational expenses.

“Students in need should not be thinking about how they’ll pay for a semester’s worth of tuition,” said Tarnacha.

In the span of their careers, Govila and Tarnacha have witnessed the diversity gap in the tech industry. This has strengthened their desire to make Penn State and IST more inclusive, they said.

“More diversity prepares students to be more accepting, and it encourages students to share ideas and understand different points of views since people come from all walks of life, all races and colors and preferences,” said Tarnacha. “If you don’t have that exposure as a student, you will certainly have challenges in the professional work environment where there will be more mixed cultures and people with different belief systems. Your interaction with them is going to be hindered if you don’t know how to navigate a diverse workplace.”

As they look forward to supporting future students at IST, and as they reflect on the life they’re creating with their daughter Adriane, Govila and Tarnacha remember the foundation on which their gift was built.

“We come from backgrounds where education has a lot of emphasis; it’s the cornerstone to success, it’s the pillar on which our families are built,” said Govila. “And we really hope that the scholarship helps students to create that foundation for their families as well.”

This gift will advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by serving communities and fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.

Last Updated April 15, 2021