UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Alejandra Castaneda often returns to her home country of Colombia, where she and her family immigrated from when she was just a child.
Now, as Smeal’s fall 2020 student marshal, Castaneda said those experiences have shaped the person she is today — influencing her love for learning and working with people of different cultures, opening her eyes to global perspectives and sparking her interest for international development.
“The opportunity to represent the Smeal College of Business as student marshal is something I always admired and aspired to be, and it was such an honor to have been chosen among so many admirable graduating seniors,” Castaneda said. “I am really thankful for the recognition of my hard work over the years and devotion to Penn State and am especially excited to represent the Management Information Systems major.”
Castaneda, who will graduate Dec. 19 with a 4.0 GPA in her dual majors of management information systems (MIS) and international politics, which she said has given her a “well-rounded, analytical view of the world and its systems.”
“I’ve had an interest in technology for as long as I can remember, but I’m also very people-oriented, which is what attracted me to Smeal,” Castaneda said. “MIS teaches you to be the bridge between technology and people, which has been the perfect combination for me and it also prepares you for the variety of different career paths, so you can really take ownership of your future.”
Her experiences outside of the classroom have allowed her to connect her two areas of study, such as interning with Deloitte and building a dashboard for a foundation in Cartagena. She is currently working on the Future of Learning and Innovation team at UNESCO.
UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific aand Cultural Organization, which “seeks to build peace through international cooperation in Education, the Sciences and Culture,” according to its official website.
Castaneda’s minors, French and global/international studies have also assisted her in these experiences, as she described being a proficient French speaker as being a “major asset” at UNESCO.
Throughout her time at Smeal, Castaneda has acquired a diverse and extensive set of accomplishments. Some of her honors include the Bunton Waller Fellowship, the 2020 Smeal Diversity Leadership Award, the 2019 Evan Pugh Scholar Senior Award, the 2020 Thane J. Fake Scholarship, the 2019 Thomas R. and Joan G. Dye Scholarship in Political Science, the 2017 President’s Freshman Award, the 2018 President Spark’s Award and being a Virginia Todd Chapel Executive Intern.
She’s also part of the Beta Gamma Sigma International Business Honor Society and has served as the vice president and corporate liaison for the Management Information Systems Association, the professional development chair and new member THON chair for the PGN Professional Development Organization and on the executive board for the Pi Sigma Alpha Political Science Honor Society.
Castaneda chose Supply Chain and Information Systems Professor Akhil Kumar as her faculty representative, whom she said had a great impact on her academic journey.
“Alejandra is that very special student who excels at everything she does,” Kumar said. “She knows no bounds and the sky is her limit. Not only is she exceptionally talented, but she is also a warm and friendly person. It was a joy to have her in my class and I am proud of all of her accomplishments.”
Castaneda said she chose Kumar for his extensive and impressive technical background and flexibility — but also the sincere way he treats his students.
“He consistently exhibits kindness and cares about his students — he was always interested in knowing our career plans and interests, and he recognized hard work,” Castaneda said. “Those qualities are so valuable to me and he inspires me to emulate them in my life.”
With all of her commitments and experiences, Castaneda said she had to learn to manage her time effectively, which is one of the most valuable skills she said she will take away from her time at Penn State.
“I’ve always prioritized academics — that’s something that was ingrained in me from a young age – and I enjoyed the leadership opportunities and personal development from extracurricular activities, but I learned that it’s just as, if not more, important to leave time for yourself, prioritize your relationships and enjoy life,” Castaneda said. “I’m all about seizing the moment and making memories, especially after what we’ve experienced this year.”
In her spare time, Castaneda enjoys playing tennis, playing the piano and taking advantage of Penn State activities, like fitness classes or sporting events.
She said throughout her time at Smeal, she’s had the opportunity to meet “so many incredible and impressive people” between classes and involvements and said after graduation, she will miss the supportive culture of the college. Specifically, she emphasized the Diversity Enhancement Programs office, saying its staff have had the biggest impact on her academic achievements.
“Nothing compares to that support system and knowing that I could stop by the office whenever I was stressed, had a question, or just wanted to chat,” Castaneda said. “They supported me with every major aspect of being a Smeal student, from academic planning to career opportunities and studying abroad and they supported all of my crazy dreams, helping me sort out any complications so I could pursue all of the things I wanted to do in four years.”
After graduation, Castaneda plans on continuing to work for UNESCO for a bit and spend some time abroad before starting a full-time role in technology consulting at Deloitte in Washington, D.C. With a passion for technology and helping people around the globe, Castaneda said her ultimate goal is to work with technology and innovation to effect positive social change.
“I’m so grateful for Smeal’s opportunities and connections,” Castaneda said. “There are countless opportunities to get involved in ways that suit your interests, and the career opportunities and alumni network are so valuable. I’m incredibly thankful for everything I’ve gotten to explore at Penn State — and a lot of it is thanks to the exposure Smeal offers.”
Information about the Management Information Systems program can be found online.