UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Underrepresented students from the College of Information Sciences and Technology recently gathered to network and share experiences at the inaugural WIRED IN reception during Penn State Startup Week.
WIRED IN, which stands for Women International Racial Ethnic Diversity Intercultural Network, is a student organization formed in 2017 aimed at building a supportive network that fosters an inclusive environment in the college. The group hosted the event in the Westgate Building on March 26 in an effort to strengthen the IST community and prepare its members for life after graduation.
The reception also was an opportunity for students to get real-world advice from Derris Boomer, founder and CEO of Boomer Technology Group, who was on campus to speak during Startup Week. He talked with attendees about his personal experience as an entrepreneur and as a career employee of Fortune 500 companies. He also stressed the importance of negotiating in a job offer or in interactions with potential investors or partners.
“Don’t be afraid to ask,” he said. “The worst they will do is say no.”
Boomer, whose corporate career resume includes IBM, Tiffany & Co., Polo Ralph Lauren, and Accenture, empowered students to pave their own paths after graduation to identify their strengths and weaknesses and to take advantage of opportunities afforded to them.
“No one is stuck,” he said. “You can re-engineer your life.”
At the reception, WIRED IN vice president Danny Matulula said that he wanted to help spread the word of his organization’s mission to fellow students in attendance.
“WIRED IN has helped me to learn about a lot of resources that I didn’t know were available to me,” he said.
While the Startup Week reception was WIRED IN’s first formal networking event, the group holds frequent informal gatherings to connect underrepresented students in the college. Many of the group’s members are women or international students, but any IST student is welcome and encouraged to join.
“We hold a broad definition of underrepresentation because we know there are attributes that are not visible,” said Olivia Lewis, student advocacy specialist at IST. “It is more than race, ethnicity and gender.”
For WIRED IN President Emma Dodoo, her involvement in WIRED IN as a female who grew up in Ghana is multifaceted.
“As a freshman, I felt as though I was alone in the college,” she said. “I did not have that community or family when I first started.”
WIRED IN changed that for her, helping her to find a home at a large university.
“WIRED IN has given me the chance to meet more people who understand me,” she said. “I have grown comfortable in this group and gained so much knowledge. I have become better at speaking publicly, and interacting with students, faculty, and employers.”
In addition to a personal support system, the organization also gives underrepresented students the skills to become supportive of their peers. Zion Emanuel discovered that at the first WIRED IN event he attended — a workshop with fellow IST students to give and receive homework help. He gained assistance on some difficult class assignments, got advice from upperclassmen on which future courses to take, and gave advice to some first-year students in attendance.
“Being able to explain complicated concepts regarding programming and discrete math to those who may find the topics confusing makes me feel like I am doing my part in my community by helping others,” he said.