Kristine Lupia speaks to IST students

Women and technology -- a winning combination for career success

A shift has been noticed at Penn State Worthington Scranton, where not only are more women entering the Information Sciences and Technology (IST) degree program, but achieving success in the field after graduation, landing good paying jobs with major companies that offer them prestige, opportunity and flexibility.

By: Kelly Frey
Companies value the different perspectives women bring to the job

It used to be that technology programs and classes, as well as jobs, were dominated by men and not a top choice for young women entering college.

But today, with technology now part of our daily lives, that is changing, and a definitive shift has been noticed at Penn State Worthington Scranton, where not only are more women entering the Information Sciences and Technology (IST) degree program, but achieving success in the field after graduation, landing good paying jobs with major companies.

Generally, IST has become a popular degree option over the years with college applicants as technology continues to expand and rapidly change. New graduates are usually highly desired in the workforce and have no trouble finding a job with a very competitive salary.

At Penn State Worthington Scranton, IST majors have an average placement rate of 86%, and it’s been that way since 2007, said Fred Aebli, IST instructor. “The average starting salary for graduates is $62,704, with average sign-on bonuses of $4,907.”

At Penn State Worthington Scranton, many students take advantage of internships at local branches of national companies such as MetLife and Lockheed Martin, as well as at well-known regional entities such as Allied Health and the Scranton School District, to name a few.

The campus also offers several scholarships to IST students, including the Marcos Family Program Endowment in IST, which supports students over the course of their degree and can be used for undergraduate research.

"The Marcos IST Endowment will provide academic and professional opportunities that enhance the learning and experiences for current and future IST students at Penn State Worthington Scranton," said Dr. Debra Smarkusky, IST program co-coordinator and associate professor.

There is also an IST scholarship and a Women in IST scholarship, which provide financial support to qualifying students pursuing a degree in this field.

As the technology profession grows, new perspectives and diversity are highly encouraged and desired by companies hiring new employees, particularly in regards to hiring women in the field.

“Women provide a different perspective and a different way of thinking and problem-solving,” said Dr. Smarkusky, herself a PSWS alumna, with degrees in computer science and mathematics from Penn State.

She is one of many women alumni who are now very successful in the technology field.

Kristen Lemoncelli, a 1999 graduate, now works for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, having spent the past 10 years working as an application developer. Her duties include coding, testing of packages, interfacing, generating reports and report packages, queries and batch scripts.

This work required Lemoncelli to develop skills in a variety of products in Microsoft Office 2016, PL/SQL coding, Java coding, C++ coding, SQL and SQL+ coding.

“The experiences I gained from the past 10 years has not only been challenging, but very rewarding,” she said. “I feel that the skills I learned have propelled my knowledge and skills for the future.”

When Lemoncelli was an undergrad at PSWS, her college experience was one that she will never forget.

“The knowledge and experience I gained from the IST program benefitted me tremendously in my career--such as effective communication, time management, team participation and task leadership. During my four years, I learned valuable skills and had fun as well. The professors are not only your teachers, but they are on many occasions your biggest fans,” she explained. “The IST program is a close-knit community that you will always be connected to even after you graduate.”

Since graduating, Lemoncelli has maintained an active role with her alma mater, participating in the Alumni Speed Mentoring program, where she has encouraged many PSWS students to follow their dreams and enter a career in IST.

“I feel that the possibilities for women in IST today have never been greater,” she stated. “Leadership roles for women are on the rise, especially women with effective communication skills. With this combination, the sky is indeed the limit for the future women of IST.”

For many students, hearing the success stories of others who have gone before them can be an empowering and inspiring experience.

Recognizing how important those shared personal experiences can be, the IST faculty, along with Alumni Specialist Deborah Brandt Johnson, and Director of Development Maria Russoniello, have made increasing efforts over the past few years to reach out to successful alumni, inviting them back to campus to speak to groups and classes.

One of those alumni was Izabela Pelszynska, who graduated from Worthington Scranton with a business degree.

In 2014, she formed a technology security company called The Breacher Group. This female-owned business focusing on security vulnerabilities, risk mitigation and intelligence solutions for technology systems has continued to grow.

When she visited campus in 2015 to give a presentation to IST and business majors, she emphasized that it was both her student experience at Penn State Worthington Scranton, as well as taking advantage of the Penn State alumni connection after graduation, that helped her make the personal and business connections that have helped her get to where she is today.

Theresa Prawdzik, a 2003 graduate, now works as a senior systems integration business analyst at Lockheed Martin. Her technology job allows her the flexibility to work from home and take care of her two sons, while still enjoying a wonderful career.

“The IST profession allows you to work from anywhere there’s an internet connection!” says Prawdzik. Her profession specifically uses SAP (Systems, Applications and Products) software and over the years, her career provided her with hands-on experience in software development, configuration and testing.

Now she leads projects where she plans, tracks tasks and resources, and is involved in all phases of the project from requirements and design to testing and deployment. According to Prawdzik, salaries in IST at Lockheed Martin are above average in this industry.  She encourages women to enter this field.

“I personally think women bring a lot of value to technology and the corporate world because we are able to balance priorities, lead teams and resolve conflict,” Prawdzik said.

“Many women are doing this every day--juggling family and career. As a mom, I can’t tell you how many times a week I need to help resolve a sibling dispute; similarly, when working with teams of individuals with very diverse backgrounds and experiences, there are often different ideas and opinions and someone needs to help everyone stay focused on the end goal.”

Kristi Farinelli, who now works for IBM, started attending PSWS in the fall of 2008 and graduated from University Park in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in telecommunications and a minor in IST.

She is a great example of the 2+2 plan that Penn State offers, allowing students to start at a smaller campus close to home before moving on to University Park, PSU’s main campus.

Her time at PSWS was highly involved, as she participated in a highly successful internship at Frontier Communications in Dallas, PA and enjoyed a shadowing experience with Times-Shamrock in Scranton.

Farinelli worked while attending school and still managed to find time to participate in many activities, including student government, the honors program, and serving as a campus representative for the Council of Commonwealth Student Governments (CCSG).

While at University Park, she continued to support PSWS by maintaining a position on the executive board of CCSG. She worked in the IST building at the career services offices, was involved with Women in IST (WIST) and co-founded the Enterprise Architecture Club.

She had met IBM recruiters at the College of IST’s Pro Expo Career Fair in 2010 at University Park and interviewed with them just a few weeks later. That interview led to a job offer.

After graduation, Farinelli started working in the government consulting sector of IBM Global Business Services as a strategy and analytics consultant. She relocated to Washington, DC where she focused on federal projects and traveled often for state and local level projects.

Now living in Philadelphia, Kristi has worked with IBM for five years and still feels like it was a great benefit for her.

“Working for IBM has been a great experience for me. Everything from education, networking/social events, employee benefits, being associated with such a recognizable brand, and working with first-of-a-kind technologies has been beneficial to me both personally and professionally,” she said.

“IBM was celebrating the success of Watson as well their centennial year when I joined,” she explained. “It was (and still continues to be) a very exciting time to be here! We have over 400,000 employees across the entire company and I’ve worked in almost a dozen different IBM locations over the last five years. The opportunities to grow, travel, and make new connections are endless.”

As for her Penn State experience, Farinelli feels it prepared her well for her chosen career path and the variety of avenues she was able to pursue shows the flexibility available within the program and the possibilities given to students at Penn State.

“The IST curriculum structure at Penn State fully prepares you for real world scenarios in all stages of a technology project lifecycle,” she said. “Major technology firms and government agencies know this and they tend to recruit heavily from Penn State for internships and full-time positions.”

As a woman in IST, Farinelli believes that there is an advantage for women who pursue a degree in the field.

“The job market is absolutely in favor of women with degrees from programs like IST at Penn State,” she said. “Recent graduates are attractive because they’re eager to start working; have flexible schedules; are excited to travel; and, most importantly, are well-versed in current tech trends and have hyper-relevant skillsets. I’ve been able to return to Penn State a couple of times as a recruiter and I know that Penn State is always a top school for IBM to visit every spring and fall.”

Farinelli said that there were three distinctive variables that made Penn State Worthington Scranton the place to be for her:  the flexible schedules, the size, and the location.

The ability to schedule classes at any time of day made it possible for Farinelli to maintain two part-time jobs and still have a presence on campus.

“Strategically scheduling extra evening and summer classes to meet my degree requirements for telecommunications and IST enabled me to graduate in three years instead of four years,” she explained.

“In addition to the campus advantages, the faculty and staff are extraordinary,” she says. “I completed my last year at University Park and, despite having a terrific experience, the ease of accessibility of human resources (registrar, bursar, the professors and advisors) just doesn’t compare to Penn State Worthington Scranton.”

Whitney Higgins graduated from Penn State in December, 2014 and now works at General Motors in Arizona.

She had multiple job offers from large companies rolling in by October, 2014—two months before she even graduated--and explained that she took part in every career fair to ensure employment post-graduation.

By the end of January 2015, she received her official offer from GM, where she works as a software test analyst—a job that requires not just her technical skills, but excellent communication skills as well.

In her position, she works with professionals in every area of the company, from business analysts to developers and project managers, to other test analysts.

She assures students that Penn State’s IST program is the place to be to prepare for the real world and employment within IT.

“The Penn State IST program is fantastic at getting students prepared for real world employment within IT because the projects and technologies taught are as close to real world as they can get within an academic environment,” she stated.

“Also the faculty is constantly assessing the curriculum/technology taught to ensure that it is relevant within the IT field. Even if you are aiming to be more on the business side of things within a company there are so many technological tools used today that having a background in IST is hugely helpful,” she says.

But PSWS’ female IST alumnae are not the only ones who are benefitting from the campus’ program. Current students are also experiencing success years before they graduate.

Kim Gaik, a senior IST and business major who completed her entire degree at PSWS, has already had several positive experiences and customized her studies to fit with her career goals.

“I chose the Integration and Application option for IST which prepared me for the incorporation of IT with business practice applications--a perfect complement to my business degree,” she explained.

“It's crucial to understand this relationship from an enterprise perspective, as these departments constantly work together. This skill is in high demand by employers and (Penn State Worthington Scranton’s) IST program prepared me for working with that connection. This is an abnormal approach than what is typically perceived of an IST degree but presents one of the many career paths that this option can provide.”

In addition to her studies, Gaik made the most of her student experience by taking advantage of several of the extra-curricular activities and opportunities PSWS offers. Even with a double major, she made time to participate in sports, stay in the honors program, and be an active member of the Business Analytics Club.

“I've enjoyed being on campus by keeping myself busy between my double majors and taking advantage of networking and career opportunities provided,” she said. “In my free time I enjoy the fun activities on campus along with running on the cross country team.”

“My ultimate career goal is to become an IT project manager or a related position within management that works with a business intelligence department,” she explained. “This role will incorporate my skill sets from both my IST and business degrees, enabling me to manage technical solutions, and address business concepts and proposals from working with clients.”

Gaik already has plans in place for after graduation.

“I will be working in a rotation program as an IT business analyst at Lowe's Home Improvement headquarters after I graduate in May. During this time, I am also planning on receiving my MBA.”

“After spending two internships being an IT business analyst and an IT internal auditor, I can already attest that my major is beneficial. The IST program does a great job of stressing the SDLC (Systems Development Life Cycle) components and working in team environments for projects which prepared me well for my position after graduation.”

While Gaik is finishing her degree here on campus, Himanshi Patel took part in the 2+2 program for her degree.

“The 2 + 2 plan was actually wonderful because in the first two years at Worthington, I learned about what college was--how to study, how to adjust to the non-traditional schedules, how to balance school, homework, work and clubs, and have a social life; but when I moved to University Park, though living on my own was somewhat challenging, it was okay, because I already knew how to study for college level courses and had developed some networking skills that helped me out in such a different environment. Honestly, I found people to be very helpful, and that made the change even easier,” she said.

Patel was a Lion Ambassador and a member of the Blue and White Society while at PSWS. The leadership and communication skills she learned during her first two years on campus helped lead her to an internship at University Park, where she left with a job offer.

Since she is still in school, she is considering the offer while also looking into government agencies to see what the future holds for her. She says that her organizational communication class here made all the difference when she transferred to University Park.

The experience she gained from that class helped her present in front of her company’s CIO and run for executive board positions of clubs at University Park.

“I would definitely like to encourage students at Worthington Scranton to join clubs and network, because that may very well end up shaping their future,” she advised. “I also recommend they try out tutoring, or a work study program if they can. The disciplines they learn of how to behave in a casual/ business environment will certainly help them in the future.”

Patel’s transition was a learning process for her. She encourages all students to not be afraid to ask for help because she has learned that the people on campus enjoy helping whenever they can.

The 2+2 plan has led her to job offers before she even graduated and she can feel confident after she graduates that work will not be hard to find.

These women are just a few examples of the successes and opportunities that exist for women in the IST field and that female IST majors can look toward for inspiration in their own academic and career paths.

Women are greatly desired in this field, and now is one of the best times for women to pursue IST as a career.

In addition, Penn State Worthington Scranton’s IST program is very flexible, providing  opportunities for students to create a course of study and a schedule that fits their goals—helping  them achieve the technology career they want.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in IST, you can speak with:

Dr. Debra Smarkusky, Associate Professor, IST
dls102@psu.edu
570-963-2593     or

Mr. Fred Aebli, Instructor, IST
fja100@psu.edu
570-963-2592

Or contact Penn State Worthington Scranton's Office of Admission at 570-963-2500.