Cybersecurity, aquariums among IST student marshal’s passions

In addition to excelling in the classroom, Brendan Farren is the HUB aquarium’s head student volunteer and maintains the complex ecosystem.  Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Brendan Farren has been named the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) student marshal for the fall 2016 commencement ceremony on Dec. 16. A native of Monroeville, Pennsylvania, Farren will receive a bachelor of science degree in Security and Risk Analysis (SRA) with an emphasis on Information and Cyber Security.

Farren’s interest in technology began at an early age, when his father brought home a computer when he was 6 years old. “I’ve been hooked since Windows 95,” he said. That fascination led him to work in a computer repair shop all throughout high school. “It was just something I always enjoyed. And when I graduated from high school, I thought, 'Why not make a career out of it?'” He transferred to Penn State Altoona as a sophomore to earn his degree in SRA.

Before transferring to the University Park campus, Farren joined the swim team at Penn State Altoona. He was a distance swimmer, something he described as rewarding but tedious. “It’s just, ‘Put your head down, keep swimming,’” he said.

During his first semester, he couldn’t attend any of the team practices because of his busy class schedule. He arranged with his head coach to swim in the mornings and evenings so he could complete his assigned workouts. “[The coach] wasn’t expecting too much, relying on me doing the workouts myself,” Farren said. But he surpassed expectations and earned the team’s Dedication Award and the Scholar Athlete Award for his academic success.

When he arrived on the University Park campus, he was drawn to water in a different way. He volunteered to work at the HUB aquarium. “When I started, I just wanted to try something new and work with fish. It was just a way to take a break from studying and classes,” Farren said. Now, he is the aquarium’s head student volunteer and maintains the complex ecosystem while coordinating and teaching other student volunteers.

Farren credits his IST education with providing him the big picture view and problem-solving skills needed to thrive in his work at the aquarium.

“IST has taught me about a wide range of IT systems and programming languages. But it has also taught me that continuous learning and adaptability is the key to success in today’s world,” he said. “Like any system [the aquarium] is understandable in its components, and IST has prepared me to look at and learn systems from both a micro and a holistic view.”

He said he approaches cybersecurity and the aquarium in the same way. “You need a top-to-bottom knowledge of things," Farren said. "One small change in a computer system that you didn’t understand can have a snowball effect. And it’s the same thing at the aquarium.”

As he pursued his degree, Farren attended a GE Security Day held in the IST Building. “Before I left the room that day, I had an interview for an internship,” he said. After securing and completing that internship, Farren was offered a two-year rotational position with GE in the company's Digital Leadership Program.

Farren views his role as the student marshal with great symbolic importance.

“The student marshal leads their class to graduation," he said. "That’s what I’m hoping to do with GE as well, to be the hardest worker and lead by example.”

Last Updated December 08, 2016