UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As the College of Information Sciences continues to grow, so do the opportunities for its students and graduates — especially women.
Neha Sharma, a 2017 graduate, is the first female from the college to complete the new Smeal College of Business Management and Organizational Leadership (MOL) master’s degree program.
Established in 2017, the MOL program teaches students in non-business disciplines how to build the foundation for their business ventures and provides expertise on broad business perspectives.
Though Sharma started her undergraduate career in Penn State’s Eberly College of Science, she gained experience working in a lab with Mary Beth Rosson, professor of information sciences and technology and associate dean in the College of IST. It was through that opportunity that Sharma felt better connected with IST and changed her major.
“I kind of grew a lot of interest with what I helped [Rosson] with” said Sharma. “I realized biotech wasn’t my thing so I jumped back in with IST, and it felt like a good fit.”
The College of IST provides a People, Organization, and Society track within the IST major, which explores how information technologies are used to help organizations excel. This concentration piqued Sharma’s interest and set the foundation for her to pursue the MOL program.
As she desired something technical but more customer based, Sharma’s new degree coupled with her minor in Supply Chain and Information Science and Technology gave her an advantage in the MOL program.
Helping to close the industry gender gap
Sharma’s MOL class was made up of 34 students, including five from the College of IST. Of the IST participants, she was the only woman.
“With IST you’re already kind of faced with that image where there are more males than females” she said. “It made a huge impact to see that I’ve been able to jump into a business role coming from a STEM background and promote that throughout.”
According to the National Center of Women & Information Technology, men make up 74 percent of computing and information technology occupations.
Earning an undergraduate degree and minor in a primarily male field, along with being the first College of IST female graduate to complete the MOL program, are achievements of which Sharma is extremely proud.
“Don’t say no to opportunities that scare you; that just closes doors for you,” Sharma advises to future students. “Always keep an open mind, and say yes even if you have some fear. If you don’t like it you don’t like it – at least you know what the water tastes like.”
Sharma served as an ambassador for the MOL program, helping to assist the needs of the second official class of the program and to promote it to interested students. Influenced as an undergraduate by the Women in IST student organization, Sharma wants other females in the college to consider the same post-graduate opportunity.
“My personal mission as an ambassador was to come back to IST and promote the program for women who are looking for the same kind of roles I was looking for,” Sharma said.
Bridging STEM and business backgrounds
Within IST, Dave Fusco, assistant professor and director of IST’s master’s programs, recognized Sharma’s potential for success in the MOL program.
“Neha is a forward-thinking, future leader representing the next generation of strategic technology innovators” Fusco said. “She is learning the business concepts needed in order to survive in this capacity.”
Fusco worked with Sharma during a summer program, teaching middle school girls the skill of programming using Java and Minecraft as platforms.
Sharma noted that through her experiences in the MOL program and the College of IST, she was able to learn how to bridge her STEM background with her business background, a desirable skill set for many employers.
“I feel like everything I learned in the IST program helped me jump into business.” she said. “The differences help me become a better person when it comes to using those skills in my professional and personal life”
Sharma will be joining IBM Global Business Services Consulting by Degrees Program as a Cognitive Process Transformation Consultant in the Public Service Sector in September. She hopes to one day narrow her focus to project management, something she became interested in thanks to an IST course that focused on successfully planning and managing IT projects.
“That class really held on to me,” she said. “I always refer back to it because the techniques I learned are shared throughout the MOL program as well. I take on a lot of leadership when it comes to team projects, so the expertise will help me in my field.”
As she looks toward the future, Sharma’s biggest takeaway from the MOL program was a crucial one that is growing within IST fields.
“Diversity plays a huge role in team building and leadership,” she explained. “Because we had such diverse individuals in the group, it helped understand how a problem can be viewed in different perspectives.”