UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — “Be intentional.” “Remember your why.” “Be clear on who you are.” “You’re not alone.”
Those were a few of the main takeaways shared by panelists with students during the first IST Alumni Identity Talks event, hosted virtually by Penn State's College of Information Sciences and Technology last month.
One of the panelists was Ka’Lee Strawbridge-Moten, who graduated from the college in 2018. He hopes that students — especially those from underrepresented backgrounds — recognize that there is a community around them to help them in their academic and professional careers.
“Being a Penn Stater opens the door to a community of diverse people and brains,” said Strawbridge-Moten.
That is also the hope that the organizers have for the IST Alumni Identity Talks. Co-hosted by the college’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations, the Office of Inclusion and Diversity Engagement, and the Office of Career Solutions and Corporate Engagement, the series was launched to inspire an open dialogue for IST students and alumni and provide unique viewpoints to help all attendees thrive in diverse personal and professional communities.
“While there is certainly an increased focus on diversifying the field of technology, a large gap remains in the educational system and industry,” said Madhavi Kari, assistant director of the Office of Inclusion and Diversity Engagement and co-organizer of the talks. “Because of this gap, it is important that students from underrepresented populations, especially in the tech field, see and connect with alumni who look like them and have shared similar experiences to provide their insight and guidance on how they navigated their academic and professional journey to find success.”
Further, the series aims to give alumni an opportunity to engage with the college, while also giving back and lifting the next generation of emerging IT professionals.
“We want to open new possibilities and spaces for alumni blazing new trails in the technology industry to share their experiences, provide guidance to our students, and let them know they are not alone,” said Kari. “IST has a successful network of alumni, and we wanted to create more opportunities for them to interact with our current students and enrich their own personal and professional journeys.”
The February panel, which centered on Black alumni in technology in celebration of Black History Month, included Strawbridge-Moten, a senior information security analyst at Lowe’s Companies Inc.; Corey Lee, class of 2012, an enterprise security executive at Microsoft; and Cierra Freeman, class of 2012, an agile project manager at Confluence. All three alumni volunteered their time to help students navigate the next steps in their careers.
“I believe that one of the best ways to transition from undergrad to internships or to the professional world is by understanding and getting as much feedback from out there as possible,” said Strawbridge-Moten. “But then, being a person of color, I feel like it’s even more important. Knowing some of the difficulties that I personally had, trying to alleviate some of those hurdles for a student would mean the world to me.”
Andrew Pacheco is one of those students. He served as moderator for the panel and was thankful to get a first-hand glimpse of what he will experience in his career.
“Diversity in IST and in the tech community is so important because when we develop and create technologies that different people from all over the world will interact with, we have to try to consider all of the people that will use these systems and the experiences they will have,” said Pacheco. “Diverse teams working on these technologies together allow for the combination of many different experiences in an attempt to eliminate bias, creating experiences everyone can enjoy.”
Pacheco was thankful for the opportunity to participate in this first event and looks forward to upcoming talks.
“It is important that IST offers events focused on diversity and inclusion to members of the community because we, as future professionals in technology, have a responsibility to create inclusive opportunities for everyone,” he said.
According to Kari, it is often challenging for IST students from underrepresented backgrounds to find professional role models who look like them and have overcome challenges in their careers, and she hopes that this series is a step toward changing that.
“One of the most powerful tools to change inequities is to create spaces for representation and inclusion where it becomes normalized for minoritized individuals to see themselves as part of the fabric of education and career,” she said. “We see this series as a way to engage current and prospective students with examples of trailblazers who have gone before them and found success.”
Next panel is March 16
The next Alumni Identity Talks panel will be held from 12 to 1 p.m. on Tuesday, March 16. In celebration of Women’s History Month, four IST alumnae will share their experiences as women in the technology field. Future talks are planned for later this spring and in the fall semester, with panelists representing professionals with disabilities, the LGBTQ+ community, and other underrepresented populations.
While the talks are designed to be an open dialogue between IST alumni and students, the series is open to all members of the IST and Penn State community.
Learn more about the series at ist.psu.edu/identity-talks.