Alumni sisters experience IST 10 years apart, advocate for diversity in tech

Hope Damato
August 31, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Many alumni can say that the Penn State legacy runs in their family, but few can say that they graduated from the same college as their sibling. Sisters Diana Lopez Long and Maria Umana Cody graduated from the Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology with future careers in mind.

In fall 2000, Diana moved from crowded New York City to the more rural State College to join the Division of Undergraduate Studies (DUS). She knew she wanted a career in which she would constantly learn new skills, but she hadn't found the perfect fit yet. After meeting with her DUS adviser, she learned of a new major being offered: information sciences and technology.

“After my first intro class, I knew that was it for me,” said Diana. “IST offered me the opportunity to collaborate with real, well-known companies and work on real projects.”

Hands-on experience as an undergraduate prepared Diana for the rest of her education after earning her bachelor’s degree in 2004. She went on to earn her master’s degree in information science at Penn State Great Valley. Most of her cohorts there were working professionals, so the timelines and assignments fit their lives.

Six years later, Maria was searching for the next stop in her academic journey after high school. After touring Penn State, she knew that the large university was the right fit. Most importantly, she had her sister's guidance in choosing a major.

“I knew I wanted to do something cool, like be an FBI agent or a lawyer, but there was no specific major for that,” said Maria, who earned her bachelor’s degree in 2014. “Diana really pushed IST, so I looked into it. During my tour, they introduced security and risk analysis and how this would be a great avenue for future law students or a pathway for government work.”

Both sisters joined activities at IST and Penn State that would build friendships and connections. Diana held leadership positions in Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority and the National Hispanic Business Association, while Maria also joined Sigma Lambda Gamma, Women in Information Sciences and Technology (WIST) and SRA Club.

Although they didn’t go to school at the same time, Maria found that the College of IST provided her the same support and opportunities it did for Diana 10 years prior. From exclusive computer labs and classrooms to career fairs, the College of IST was an essential part in both sisters finding their future professions.

“I made sure to attend the career fairs. It gave me the opportunity to practice my elevator speech and nail it down before applying to roles I really cared about,” said Maria. “I ended up getting an internship after my sophomore year with Johnson & Johnson.”

“I was able to advise [Maria] while she navigated the internship search and her first job role search out of school,” added Diana. “She has exposed me to a different part of the industry I haven't had access to in my career path, so I get to learn from her experience as well.”

Maria Umana Cody and Diana Lopez Long at their respective Penn State commencement ceremonies in 2004 and 2014

Sisters Maria Umana Cody (left) and Diana Lopez Long at their respective College of Information Sciences and Technology commencement ceremonies in 2004 and 2014.

IMAGE: Provided

When attending Maria’s graduation, Diana was ecstatic to see how diverse the student body of the program had become. She said that more people of color walked across the stage than at her ceremony.

“It is important to recruit a diverse population because Penn State has the power to give underrepresented groups the opportunity to break into tech simply because of Penn State's alumni reputation,” said Diana. “More importantly Penn State has the resources to provide a transition into a subject matter or industry that is not taught in many public schools.”

Today, Diana is a director and IT project manager and portfolio management at General Atlantic, a global growth investor, and Maria serves as a cyber security incident response team (CSIRT) manager for Salesforce.

Being a Hispanic woman working in the technology industry, Diana said that she likes to tell her story so that coworkers and managers understand who she is. Earlier in her career, she did not feel empowered to ask about team's diversity during interviews. Now, she said, it's always a question she asks to understand what type of team she is joining and to stay true to herself.

“Up until graduation, our learning has been collaborative with our age group but at work, we interact with people from all ages, different stages in life, and different backgrounds,” said Diana. “Diversity and inclusion is not just about race, it's learning how to respect our differences and interact with all people.”

“Diversity and inclusion is not just about race, it's learning how to respect our differences and interact with all people.”

— Diana Lopez Long, Penn State class of 2004, College of IST

Diana strives to share her story more broadly, too. This month, she said, she hopes to inspire IST students and fellow alumni from Latinx and other underrepresented backgrounds as she serves on an "IST Alumni Identity Talks" panel celebrating Hispanic heritage. She, along with Noel Claudio, class of 2014, and Jackie Sanchez, class of 2019, will share their diverse experiences gained through their educational and professional journeys during the virtual event, to be held noon on Wednesday, Sept. 15.

Maria also served on a separate IST Alumni Identity Talks panel last spring, focused on strength in diversity.

“I decided to serve on these panels because representation matters,” said Diana. “It is important for our students to learn about our experiences to be better and informed members of the IT community. I hope to empower our students in their future work environments and ensure they know that we need them there.”

IST Alumni Identity Talks – Celebrating Hispanic Heritage

Members of the IST community can hear more from Diana during IST Alumni Identity Talks – Celebrating Hispanic Heritage, from noon to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 15. She will join fellow IST alumni Noel Claudio, class of 2014, and Jackie Sanchez, class of 2019, to share their diverse experiences and perspectives gained through their educational and professional journeys.  

The IST Alumni Identity Talks series aims to inspire an open dialogue for College of IST students and alumni and to provide unique viewpoints from individuals from underrepresented backgrounds to help all attendees be better prepared to thrive in diverse professional and personal communities. Additional talks in the series this fall include LGBTQ+ Alumni Pride on Oct. 6, Disability Awareness on Oct. 27, First Generation on Nov. 10 and Military on Nov. 17.

Last Updated September 01, 2021