IST students applying tech skills to benefit nonprofit companies

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Behind the people working tirelessly to provide communities with support and resources at nonprofit companies are a network of professionals performing essential business functions. Among these are technology experts and information technology (IT) support system managers that allow the efficient storage and extension of information between the organization members, clients and even governmental agencies.

Students interning for nonprofit companies have the opportunity to assist with core tasks and participate in new experiences in IT while applying the knowledge they gained from College of Information Sciences and Technology curriculum.

“Students can gain insight into a very unique industry and might even be open to pursuing a job in a nonprofit organization,” said Rita Griffith, assistant director of professional development in the College of IST. “The opportunity to help and have a purpose beyond the more profit-driven corporate sector is often very appealing to students.”

Meet three students, earning their IST degrees online through Penn State World Campus, who are providing technical support through their nonprofit internships – opening their resumes and their professional possibilities to opportunities that fall outside the typical technology career path.

Advocating for efficient systems in animal rescue

Lindsay Williams has held an interest in technology since creating her first AOL account in middle school. After graduating from high school and serving in the military as a medic during Operation Iraqi Freedom for seven years, she decided to enter the industry and pursue bachelor’s degrees in information sciences and technology and security and risk analysis through Penn State World Campus.

Williams is completing her internship with Pawmetto Lifeline, an animal rescue organization whose mission is to prevent the euthanization of homeless animals. She is the first IT intern in the company, working to strengthen and provide support for the struggling technology department.

In her role, Williams is working on rebuilding the outdated company website and updating the operating systems, from a personal home Windows XP and 7 network, to Windows 10 Enterprise. She is also helping to increase the network security of the systems. She hopes to contribute to the integration of medical information systems in order to create a more secure platform for patient information, ultimately helping more animals.  

Williams advocates for efficient, modern systems to support the mission of nonprofits.

“Some nonprofits themselves don’t realize the impact technology can make,” she said.

Operating systems that are not functioning properly slow down processes, forcing employees to work longer hours and gain overtime salaries. This can drive funds and resources away from the operation and purposes of the organizations, she said. Additionally, analyzing fundraising data from initiatives can help to make decisions about the extension of certain programs and understand their efficiency.

During her internship, Williams has had opportunities to apply and advance her IST education. Lessons from her web development and security and risk analysis classes have allowed her to contribute to the network security growth of the company.

“It’s been a completely different experience than I expected,” she said. “It’s been amazing because I’ve learned so much. It’s good to help.”

Blending tech with fundraising to support nutrition education for kids

Peter King followed his long-term interest in technology by pursuing his associate’s degree through Penn State World Campus after serving in the military. His internship with Let’s Help Let’s Move supports the education of healthy eating habits for children. His IST education prepared him to assist in their fundraising and communications efforts, he said.

King’s primary responsibilities include web design, video editing and social media posting. These platforms are essential for a nonprofit to attain reliable donors and raise the funds necessary to support their mission, he said. Potential benefactors will research a nonprofit online before deciding to make a donation. Having a positive and informative online presence is vital to receive these necessary funds.

“Everything a normal business needs to do to get their presence out is twice as important for a nonprofit,” he said.

King has always believed in the value of giving back. After graduating he expects to pursue a career with the government while continuing to work voluntarily for nonprofits.

Utilizing IST skills to improve services for homeless individuals, veterans and domestic abuse survivors

Switching from an artistic to a technical career path, Laurie Mauk ended her profession as a cake decorator to pursue her associate’s degree through Penn State World Campus. She began her internship in January with Community Action, Inc., an organization that provides a variety of services to surrounding counties, including transitional housing, veteran services, housing weatherization and assistance for victims of domestic abuse.

As an information sciences and technology major, Mauk has had the opportunity to employ her course lessons through her position.

“Everything I have learned [through IST] I’ve been able to see put to use,” she said. “If I was self-taught I would not know enough to participate in my current role.” 

Mauk delivers IT services for the organization by ensuring all machines run with current software systems, providing a secure network, updating organizational charts and incorporating new materials.

IT plays a large role in her organization, she said. Without the necessary technology, communication throughout the organization and mandatory governmental procedures would be difficult to execute. Her role in providing efficient systems allows the organization to support its mission with little technical obstacles. She overcomes the challenge of observing a strict budget and balances the need for new machines and software while finding grants that will cover that cost. 

“It wasn’t something I’ve done before, but working in a nonprofit is definitely a good experience,” she concluded.

Visit the Penn State World Campus website for more information about online IST programs.

Last Updated June 21, 2019