Women across IST are empowering themselves and each other to shatter the gender gap in tech.
MAKING CONNECTIONS One of the best parts of my job as dean is connecting with IST alumni. Whether I run into them on campus, meet them at a tailgate or off-campus event, or simply respond to an email sent my way, I enjoy hearing about their unique experiences at Penn State, everything they have accomplished since graduating, and their perspective on our path forward. As we celebrate two decades since the College of IST opened, I’ve had more of these conversations than usual. And though these stories are diverse, they often share a similar theme: change our alumni see in themselves, at Penn State, and at IST. Change can be exciting, but it can also be uncomfortable. Fortunately, the stories and feedback our alumni share demonstrate that they believe the College of IST is changing for the better. For example, in the last four years, we have added three new undergraduate degree programs in cybersecurity, data sciences, and human-centered design and development. We’ve added numerous full-time faculty at University Park to teach in these new programs and expand upon the groundbreaking research taking place within the college. As our enrollments have increased, we’ve made many changes to better support our students. We’ve hired more academic
advisers, career counselors, and support staff to preserve individual relationships with students that are critical to keeping everyone on track for graduation and ensuring they are well-positioned for their careers. We’re also implementing new administrative structures that will allow us to more efficiently and strategically manage our academic programs, while also providing new opportunities for our faculty. Most importantly, we remain committed to ensuring that current and future students will benefit from the other theme that often arises in my conversations with alumni: the value of the close-knit, welcoming, and supportive community that makes IST feel like home. To achieve this goal, we’ve launched a variety of new initiatives to engage more alumni and volunteers in the college’s activities. I hope you’ll consider investing your time and expertise in these programs. Whether you graduated last semester or last decade, you can provide invaluable guidance to our college, programs, and students that will help to lead us into the next twenty years. I look forward to hearing your story. Andrew Sears, Dean
A CULTURE OF EMPOWERMENT
How the College of IST is preparing female students for successful careers in a male-dominated industry.
Interdisciplinary, IST-driven projects are breaking new ground and forging new frontiers in artificial intelligence research.
A LEG UP
After losing a limb in an accident, sophomore RJ Shirey turns his tragedy into triumph and impacts the lives of those around him.
WHAT’S INSIDE The Big Picture Around the College Alumni Impact
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ON THE COVER (L to R): Nandita Suresh, Adanna Nedd, Rebekah Long, Cassidy DiPaola, Kathyleen O’Leary, Alair Moody-Daniels, Bailey MacDowell and Pooja Patel are just a few of the growing number of female students in the College of IST who have been influenced by — and are influencing — the college’s efforts to recruit and retain more women in technology fields.
THE BIG PICTURE
Representatives from 72 companies visited University Park to recruit IST students at Pro Expo, the college’s fall career fair. A total of 1,053 students attended the event — more than half of IST undergraduates at University Park — hoping to land an internship or their first job.
iConnect, the magazine of the College of Information Sciences and Technology, is published twice a year by the Office of Marketing and Communications. DIRECTOR Jordan Ford EDITOR Jessica Hallman ART DIRECTOR Kelly Bryan CONTRIBUTORS Delaney Peterman Emma Riglin Sarah Rothfleisch Hayley Wildeson SEND CORRESPONDENCE TO: iConnect Magazine E103 Westgate Building University Park, PA 16802 email@example.com 814-865-8947 Photography by College of IST unless otherwise credited. Opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by the University, college, or editorial staff.
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AROUND THE COLLEGE | HIGHLIGHTS
A DEVELOPING STORY
NEW BACHELOR’S DEGREE PREPARES STUDENTS TO DESIGN APPLICATIONS BY FOCUSING ON THE PEOPLE WHO USE THEM Aspiring mobile and web application developers can now design the future of technology thanks to a new degree offered by the College of IST. This fall, the college began offering a human-centered design and development (HCDD) bachelor of science degree at University Park. The program focuses on the fundamentals of designing interactive technologies that put the needs and priorities of people first. Students will gain expertise in three key areas: designing and building useful technologies to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world, identifying opportunities to enhance user experiences through technology, and using quantitative and qualitative methods to identify how technology can better support human activity. “Graduates from the HCDD program will create new, interactive user interfaces that are informed by studying users, rather than just the assumption of the programmer,” said Steve Haynes, HCDD program coordinator and teaching professor. “They’ll be uniquely positioned to tackle user interface design in mobile and web-based contexts, and they will work to identify important software design challenges in businesses and organizations and for individual users.” The new degree was driven by industry demand and feedback from alumni and current students. It is the latest evolution of
the design and development option within the information sciences and technology bachelor’s degree program. That option will be phased out as current students graduate, but remains available at several Penn State campuses. HCDD’s interdisciplinary curriculum combines foundational coursework in mathematics, statistics, information technology, and application development with specialized courses in the social and psychological aspects of technology use, usability engineering, user research methods, and user interface design. Students will also take a series of courses in an application focus area to explore these concepts within a particular domain, such as health care, data sciences, or psychology. “Interdisciplinary education is at the heart of the College of IST, and it is critical to the foundation of the HCDD program,” said Andrew Sears, dean. “Since application development platforms change rapidly, this program emphasizes the creation of lifelong and adaptable learners who can apply foundational design concepts to the technological tools of tomorrow in any area they choose.” “Technological solutions to human problems must be useable and useful in their unique contexts to be effective,” added Haynes. “Students in the new HCDD program will be at the forefront of developing solutions that enhance the way we live, work, and play.”
#FacultyFriday Each Friday, IST faculty have shared a glimpse into their lives and work both in and out of the classroom. Find their stories on Instagram (@ISTatPennState) using #FacultyFriday.
SARAH RAJTMAJER assistant professor
Before IST: Worked at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as a computational social science consultant, focusing on privacy and security, misinformation, and grey zone warfare. Why IST? “I think our college reflects the cross-disciplinary thinking that we need to address modern problems in information science. I try to integrate research into the classroom.” Fun Fact: “I have a degree in music and may be the only classically-trained flutist with an Erdos number of 3.”
DON SHEMANSKI professor of practice
Before IST: Spent three years as a lawyer and 23 years as a diplomat with the U.S. Foreign Service. Why IST? “It’s related to everything. Tech permeates the entire world. I like the innovation and flexibility of approaching teaching and knowledge and that we’re preparing students for a lot of different careers.” Fun Fact: Has met three presidents and many celebrities (he keeps a picture of himself with Tom Cruise in his office).
associate teaching professor Why IST? “You look at problems from a variety of perspectives, and it forces us to look at both solving a problem technically and the impacts it will have on people.” Outside of IST: Co-chairs an international group on combating terrorism, works for NATO and the U.S. government, and teaches the Defense Against Terrorism course for NATO. Fun Fact: Was inducted into the Penn State Behrend Athletic Hall of Fame as a member of the 1978 men’s soccer team.
CATCHING UP GETTING ENGAGED
Students looking to make the most of their time on campus now have a resource and advocate within the College of IST. Steve Babb joined the college in June as IST’s first assistant director of student engagement. In this new role, Babb works to strengthen IST student organizations’ efforts to develop their initiatives and connect students with rewarding engagement opportunities like education abroad, undergraduate research, and experiential programs that supplement academic learning.
AN INCLUSIVE HOME
Lynette Yarger, associate professor of IST, was named the Schreyer Honors College’s first assistant dean for equity and inclusion, effective August 1. Yarger will split time between her teaching and research in IST — which examines how historically underserved groups use technology to improve their life chances — and developing initiatives, programs, and policies that support equity and inclusion in the Schreyer Honors College.
LEADING THE PRIDE
IST students held three of the 15 director positions for Penn State Homecoming in 2019, where they led the planning of one of the largest student-run homecoming celebrations in the country. Austin Webster (Technology), Isabella Webster (Executive Director), and Aaron Mckenzie (Talent Relations), helped to organize a variety of events throughout the year — from a day of service in April to a parade held the night before the Nittany Lions’ 100th Homecoming football game.
AROUND THE COLLEGE | ACADEMICS
Then & Now IST, INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS PARTNER FOR NEW INTEGRATED DEGREE The College of IST has partnered with Penn State’s School of International Affairs to offer a new integrated undergraduate/graduate (IUG) degree. Through the program, students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in security and risk analysis can earn both their undergraduate degree and a master of international affairs degree in just five years. It joins the college’s other IUG programs, which allow undergraduates majoring in information sciences and technology or security and risk analysis to earn a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in informatics in five years. The new program provides a unique and interdisciplinary opportunity for students to pursue careers in international cybersecurity and related fields. IST’s security and risk analysis program prepares students to be analytical leaders who can address the current and emerging security and risk challenges facing individuals, organizations, and our nation. Students explore the role of technology, data, and analytics in various security domains, and the contexts in which analytics of security and risk are conducted. The School of International Affairs offers an interdisciplinary graduate program drawing extensively from the intellectual resources of the school’s world-renowned faculty of globally-focused scholars and
“TODAY’S WORLD IS TRULY GLOBAL AS TECHNOLOGY HAS CHANGED THE CONCEPT OF GEOGR APHIC BORDERS .” practitioners, as well as from faculty across the University. Its mission is to prepare exceptional students for careers and leadership positions in both the private and public sectors of an increasingly interdependent world. Together, these two degrees will help prepare students for success in cutting-edge careers where they will respond to transnational and global threats emerging in our complex digital age. “Today’s world is truly global as technology has changed the concept of geographic borders,” said Pete Forster, associate teaching professor of IST and one of the pioneers of the IUG program. “This integrated program offers a unique opportunity for security and risk analysis majors to increase their understanding of global security issues from an interdisciplinary perspective.”
A glimpse of how IST has grown in the two decades since opening its doors.
Campuses offering IST programs and courses
1999 2019 13 19
Undergraduate degree programs
In-residence graduate degree programs
Online degree programs
Full-time faculty members at University Park
Undergraduate students enrolled during the fall semester at University Park
Percentage of students required to complete an internship before graduation
PUT ME IN, COACH The College of IST recently established the position of internship coordinator and career coach in the Office of Career Solutions and Corporate Engagement, which aims to help students complete the college’s required internship course and assist them with career advancement opportunities. Tom Range, who received a bachelor’s degree from Penn State in 1989, is returning to his alma mater after more than three decades of teaching to fill the role in its first year.
What are the duties of your position?
Thomas Range: My main duty is coordinating the IST 495 internship class. I approve the students’ internships to make sure they are compatible with their degree. I register them for the class, get them their coursework in the online learning management system, and then grade them at the end of their internship. On the career resources side, I help students with résumé writing, creating cover letters, and job and internship searches. How will your position help students succeed?
TR: The internship gives students the experience that enhances what they get in the classroom. It gives them a real taste of what the job is going to be like. I was an education major, so my student teaching was my internship. It wasn’t until I was standing in the classroom and doing the job that
I realized it was what I wanted to do. I like that the college requires an internship because you don’t often know what you want to do until you get that real-world experience. Why did you choose this position?
TR: I recently retired from teaching, and this position was a great marriage between my degree and my experience helping students for the past 30 years. I’m excited to be here; I love data and computers, and I probably would have been a graduate of IST if it existed when I was here. I’m so happy with the people I’m working with, and it’s great to be back at Penn State. I’m looking forward to helping students, implementing new ideas, and working with our amazing team at IST.
A second chance Chris Halbig, a systems administrator in Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant, started his college journey 17 years ago. He struggled with academic self-discipline, so he withdrew and entered the workforce instead. This summer, he finally earned his IST degree — with a 4.0 GPA. “Working in the ‘real world’ gave me a better understanding of the value of higher education,” he said. “My perspective is so different now.” And that 4.0? “That was for me,” he said. “I didn’t have to come back and get straight A’s, but I wanted to prove to myself that I could.”
AROUND THE COLLEGE | STUDENT SUCCESS
IST STUDENTS LEAD THE WAY IN WORLD CAMPUS STUDENT GOVERNMENT The Penn State World Campus Student Government Association was formed earlier this year to unite and advocate for the University’s online learners around the globe. Now, it’s being led by two students pursuing online bachelor’s degrees through the College of Information Sciences and Technology. President Sean Walsh (information sciences and technology) and vice president Tanya Near (security and risk analysis) were elected through online voting last spring. “I have worked closely with a few IST professors in the past to know that they instill a strong foundation of leadership in their students,” said Walsh. “I hope us being IST-related majors encourages others to get involved and participate within their own unique Penn State experience.” Near added, “While it is just coincidence that we are both in IST-related majors, it is great that the College of IST is well represented. It is equally great that we have so much representation from the other colleges and graduate students to help round out the board. I hope to see that diversity
of representation continue to grow with the World Campus Student Government.” Walsh, a State College resident, began taking courses through World Campus after realizing the flexibility that online learning offered. However, he was surprised to find that World Campus didn’t have a student government. So when the WCSGA was formed, he ran for a position on the executive board to help give fellow online students a voice. Near, who lives in Arlington, Virginia, decided to run for a position because she wants others to feel the same affinity for the University that she does and because she desires to give back to Penn State. “I think that the World Campus government will attract future students because it shows that the University respects their online learners and values their voices,” she said. “The student government also provides online learners with an opportunity to exercise the leadership skills they are being taught.”
Eight first-year students traveled to Austin, Texas, in March to visit the offices of leading technology companies and network with Penn State alumni. Hosted by companies such as Dell, Indeed, Google, JASK, and Zenoss, students gained an interactive experience and saw their classroom lessons come to life in a professional setting. “This experience really opened my eyes to what the tech world is about,” said Courtney Smith (sophomore, information sciences and technology). “It felt more like a hands-on experience because we learn about so much in class, but seeing people actually do what they learned in college was very insightful.” Mizzah Tocmo (sophomore, information sciences and technology) added, “This trip provided a great opportunity to network directly with the people who work at these awesome companies. By getting in touch with them, everyone on the trip was able to have valuable insight to better prepare ourselves for our future.” Visit ist.psu.edu/alumni-engage to learn how you can connect IST students to your organization.
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BRIANNE LIPPERT (BOTTOM); SEAN WALSH (TOP)
Not your average spring break
CREATING AN ENVIRONMENT FOR KINDNESS AND ACCPETANCE
EVGENIYBOBROV/ADOBE STOCK (BOTTOM)
With the message of encouraging all to love themselves and others despite differences or flaws, Lady Gaga’s 2011 “Born This Way” quickly became an acceptance anthem for many young people, especially those in the LGBTQA+ community — like IST junior Cole Shusted. Shusted (security and risk analysis) heard the song — which, he said, “literally saved [his] life” — years before he told anyone he was gay. After seeing so many others bullied because of their sexuality, Shusted feared what people would think if he told them. Inspired by the song, he came out to friends, family, and peers in 2018. After suffering from anxiety and panic attacks and eventually being diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, Shusted became interested in changing the stigma surrounding mental health conditions. His life experiences are what compelled Shusted to explore the Born This Way Foundation, an international nonprofit organization co-founded by Lady Gaga to support the mental and emotional health of young people. After hearing Gaga’s message of “If you see somebody that’s hurting, don’t look away” during the 2019 Grammy Awards, Shusted was inspired to bring the organization to Penn State.
The Penn State chapter, which he launched in 2019, aims to create a safe space for students, raise awareness about mental health, and raise funds for the original foundation created by Gaga. “As someone who has felt that they needed to hide parts of themselves from others because of a mental illness, I think that there needs to be a place where people feel safe to own who they are and what they may be struggling with,” Shusted said. Shusted hopes that the Penn State organization will help with the international foundation’s mission of spreading mental health awareness around the world but plans to start locally at the University. “I hope to create an environment on campus that breeds kindness and acceptance regardless of gender, sex, race, sexual orientation, ethnic background, or ability,” Shusted said. He concluded, “This foundation, to me, means ending the stigma around mental health. I believe that behind the phrase ‘born this way’ is the idea of extreme acceptance of self and of others, because the truth is that there is good in every person and we should celebrate our differences that make us unique.”
EXPLORING NEW FRONTIERS When he arrived at Penn State, Zion Emmanuel ’19 (information sciences and technology) came with a year’s worth of college credits and was one of the first IST students to participate in the University’s Millennium Scholars Program, which supports a diverse group of undergraduate students striving to succeed in STEM fields. Soon after, he was contributing to faculty-led research projects, “I learned a lot of programming languages in my classes,” he explained, “and the research experiences helped me understand the practical applications of what I was coding and how everything works together.” Now, he is blending his technical expertise with his passion for anatomy and physiology as a doctoral student in computer science at the University of Connecticut. “I want to explore biomedical informatics and how technology can help medical professionals better manage and access electronic health information,” he said. “IST gave me the skills to do that.” As for students who want to follow in Emmanuel’s footsteps, he shares simple advice. “Get to know the faculty, share your interests with them. They can help you find your way and make decisions that move you toward your goals.” Fall 2019 11
AROUND THE COLLEGE | EXPERTISE
USING AI TO BETTER PREDICT SEVERE WEATHER IST researchers have helped to develop a computer model that can assist forecasters with recognizing potential severe storms more quickly and accurately. The framework, based on machine learning linear classifiers, detects rotational movements in clouds from satellite images that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. Steve Wistar, senior forensic meteorologist at AccuWeather and collaborator on the project, said that having this tool to point his eye toward potentially threatening formations could help him to make a better forecast. “The very best forecasting incorporates as much data as possible,” he said. “There’s so much to take in, as the atmosphere is infinitely complex. By using the models and the data we have [in front of us], we’re taking a snapshot of the most complete look of the atmosphere.” In their study, doctoral students Rachel Zheng and Yukun Chen and professor James Wang worked with other
collaborators to analyze more than 50,000 historical U.S. weather satellite images. In them, experts identified and labeled the shape and motion of “comma-shaped” clouds, which are strongly associated with cyclone formations that can lead to severe weather events. Then, using computer vision and machine learning techniques, the researchers taught computers to recognize and detect comma-shaped clouds in satellite images. The computers can then assist experts by pointing out in real time where they could they focus their attention in order to detect the onset of severe weather. The researchers found that their method can effectively detect comma-shaped clouds with 99% accuracy, at an average of 40 seconds per prediction. It was also able to predict 64% of severe weather events, outperforming other existing severe-weather detection methods.
HUB OF INNOVATION
The College of IST is part of a $4 million multi-institution National Science Foundation grant aimed at identifying innovative solutions for societal, scientific, and industry challenges through strategic data science partnerships. As part of the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub, IST researchers are collaborating on big data projects that are too large and complex for individual organizations to manage independently. “The Northeast Big Data Hub provides a unique platform for research teams that leverages the expertise and resources of multiple institutions in the region to harness the power and potential of data to address pressing regional and national challenges,” said Vasant Honavar, professor and Edward Frymoyer Chair of Information Sciences and Technology, and a member of the Northeast Hub’s Executive Committee. The Northeast Hub was launched in 2015 through a $1.25 million National Science Foundation grant. The additional 12 iConnect Magazine
funding will support translational data science projects that explore data-driven solutions in four areas of focus — education, health, rural/urban spectrum, and science — to address four overarching themes — data literacy, data sharing, responsible data science, and privacy and security. Added Honavar, “The Hub offers institutions like Penn State a platform to engage in ambitious data science research projects on a regional or national scale that require expertise and resources beyond those available at any single institution.” IST’s collaboration on Hub priorities is advancing the scalable technological resources and expertise needed to take on society’s most pressing scientific challenges. By acquiring, sharing, integrating, and analyzing disparate types of data, IST is leading the way in accelerating scientific innovation and enabling new forms of discovery.
PETROVICH12/ADOBE STOCK (TOP)
NSF GRANT POSITIONING IST TO LEAD IN COLLABORATIVE BIG DATA DISCOVERY
JUDITHFLACKE@VIRGILIO.IT (RIGHT); DULE965/ADOBE STOCK (TOP)
DEVELOPING TECH TO HELP PREVENT SUBSTANCE ABUSE Saeed Abdullah, assistant professor of IST, is collaborating on two new projects with researchers in Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development that focus on how smart devices can potentially aid in preventing substance abuse. In the first project, the researchers are developing a way to deliver on-demand, guided mindfulness practices via Amazon Alexa to patients experiencing chronic pain. Through their method, a smart assistant will provide Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) practices to individuals in their homes. MBSR is a non-addictive, long-term pain-management alternative to opioid pain medication. “In particular with opioid addiction, there has been quite a bit of progress in coming up with methods that are non-addictive, and mindfulness is one of them,” said Abdullah. The second project involves work to assess and predict alcohol and marijuana co-use in young adults through the use of Apple Watches. Simultaneous use of these substances could lead to greater negative health outcomes and consequences, such as substance-use disorder, poor academic performance, and impaired driving, compared to using them individually, the researchers said. “We are trying to understand not only the behavior, but also the contexts that are associated with it,” said Abdullah. “Maybe location, mood, or other things indicate that a behavior is about to happen. Being able to predict that behavior is fundamental to being able to provide effective interventions.”
What makes a piece of news fake? Numerous deep learning methods exist to detect fake news, but they have been unable to explain why it is recognized as such. Now, Dongwon Lee, associate professor of IST, and his research team have built an explainable fake-news detection framework, called dEFEND (Explainable FakE News Detection). The framework encodes news content and user comments to detect things such as opinionated language and sensational reactions that may explain why a piece of news is fake. “If we cannot trust what has been said in the media, and start suspecting it may be false, it could be undermining an entire ecosystem of democracy,” said Lee. “As such, this research makes an important and huge societal impact.”
And the winners are...
IST faculty, staff, and students were recognized throughout the year with college and University-wide awards. Here are a few notable recipients. Susan Agee (director, academic advising) College of IST Dean’s Circle of Excellence Award
Bikalpa Neupane (Ph.D. student) Penn State Graduate Student Service Award
Carleen Maitland (associate professor) Penn State Faculty Outreach Award
Jeff Rimland (assistant teaching professor) College of IST’s George J. McMurtry Faculty Excellence in Teaching and Learning Award
Fall 2019 13
A culture of
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by Jessica Hallman
“DIVERSITY IN TECH IS A GREAT DRIVER OF INNOVATION.” “WOMEN CAN IMPACT SOCIAL CHANGE THROUGH TECH.” “I CODE SO FUTURE GIRLS KNOW THAT THEY CAN, TOO.” Those are just a few of the many inspirational messages shared by women in the College of IST during the college’s “Sit With Me” initiative, which was held as part of the global campaign powered by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) to recognize and validate the important role women play in creating future technology. Throughout the college, members of the IST community were encouraged to “Sit with Me at IST” to share empowering messages while seated in an iconic red chair. The objective was to raise awareness for the limited number of women in many computing careers and highlight IST’s various efforts and initiatives to increase their representation. Globally, there is a significant gender gap in the tech industry. According to the NCWIT, just 26% of computing and mathematical jobs are held by women. “The information sciences and technology field has an extraordinary power to help us solve real-world problems,” said Allie Ellison, assistant director of undergraduate recruiting in the college. “A computer or data point alone cannot change the world. It takes people to put it into action.” She added, “We need to develop a diverse and inclusive talent pool that takes into account different perspectives in the problem-solving approach to determine the best solutions and implement the life-changing technologies that impact all of us.” Ellison is on the front lines of helping to develop this diverse talent pool, working to attract and retain more incoming female students in the College of IST. While the college is not immune to the gender gap, the percentage of female students enrolled in IST’s undergraduate and graduate programs has significantly increased since 2013. Much of that growth can be attributed to the atmosphere in the College of IST, built by faculty, staff, students, and alumni who are creating a supportive environment where women can be successful in a traditionally male-dominated industry. “I think it’s incredibly important to be mindful of the ways that each individual woman who comes through the doors and is successful in IST becomes part of the answer to address the inequalities that exist in the field,” said Jason Gines, assistant dean of inclusion and diversity engagement in the College of IST. “Every touchpoint we have to encourage, empower, and advance their careers is directly linked to addressing these larger structural inequalities.”
TAKING THEIR SEAT AT THE TABLE For many, a strong professional network is critical to build a successful career. But when the number of women in tech careers is small, women in the field often lack the role models, mentors, and opportunities to grow their networks. As president of the Women in IST (WIST) undergraduate student organization, Bailey MacDowell (senior, security and risk analysis) knows the importance of developing a strong support network — and she’s working with her peers and college leadership to change this dynamic. She was one of more than 20,000 individuals who attended the 2018 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing — the world’s largest gathering of women technologists. There, MacDowell and 11 of her IST classmates participated in a series of keynote talks, presentations, workshops, and networking sessions.
Female College of IST students and staff at the 2019 Grace Hopper Celebration.
“It was refreshing and empowering to feel that I belonged among this group of powerful and hardworking women,” said MacDowell, who attended the conference thanks to financial support from the college and IST corporate sponsors. “As members of a community that rarely has the chance to unite, individuals truly embraced each other. The community felt welcoming and energized, ready to take on whatever challenges came next.” Six of the 12 participants from the college returned from the conference with an internship or full-time job offer, while others were offered an interview with recruiters they met at the conference. Fall 2019 15
Rita Griffith, the assistant director of student professional development in IST’s Office of Career Solutions and Corporate Engagement who coordinates the annual trip, said the Grace Hopper Celebration serves as a reminder that even though women have been traditionally outnumbered in the technology industry, their knowledge is no less valuable and their accomplishments are no less worthy of celebration than anyone else’s. “You are here for a reason,” said Griffith at one of the group’s preparatory meetings. “Don’t minimize yourself physically, mentally or emotionally. Speak up and make sure you’re taking your seat at the table!”
BRINGING HER AUTHENTIC SELF When Alair Moody-Daniels (senior, information sciences and technology) first came to the College of IST last year as a change-of-campus student, she found herself in a unique situation. Not only was she a woman in a predominantly male field, she was also a woman of color. “I didn’t see many students who looked like me or who I could relate to day to day,” she said. “As one of the only Black girls in the classroom, and with a focus on group work in IST, I wondered if other students would respect my work and my opinions.” According to a 2018 Kapor Center, Pivotal Ventures and Arizona State University’s Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology study, women of color make up less than 10% of all bachelor’s degree recipients in computing. And, among all women employed in computer and information science occupations, just 12% are Black or Latinx. “Diversity is important in the tech industry and in creating technologies,” she said. “If we are trying to deliver innovative solutions to clients, and only have the reflections or output of one group, that’s not representative of society. Being able to include women and people of color and different backgrounds and sexual orientations will really speak to that.” At the College of IST, Moody-Daniels found support and motivation through the Office of Inclusion and Diversity Engagement; the Office of Career Solutions and Corporate
Alair Moody-Daniels applies skills she learned in the classroom in her real-world experiences.
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Engagement; and the Women, International, Racial, Ethnic Diversity Intercultural Network (WIRED IN) student organization, of which she currently serves as president. This past summer, she landed a project management internship with a confidential client at PwC, where she helped to digitally transform the client’s legacy systems with new technology solutions. “I was able to provide my technical knowledge, business acumen, and leadership qualities to deliver innovative technology solutions for clients,” she said. “The opportunity to be a part of a team with diverse cultures, perspectives, and experiences, and being able to contribute as an intern, is a phenomenal feeling.” In just over a year, Moody-Daniels said that she went from feeling like an anomaly to feeling like anything is possible — and she hopes to pass that along to fellow underrepresented students. “Everybody faces some sort of adversity,” she said. “When people see me, I hope that they see empowerment and walking hope. Being able to do what I did in a short time and making an impact sets the tone for what opportunities the College of IST offers.” She added, “I would encourage students to bring their authentic selves to the College of IST. The faculty and staff will work with you and help you learn your strengths within. I am confident that you will leave here and know that you have unique individualism and can excel.”
THE POWER TO INNOVATE Kathyleen O’Leary (senior, information sciences and technology) has dedicated her undergraduate career to empowering individuals — especially women — by providing resources and guidance to increase access to technology education. At Penn State, O’Leary has helped to organize HackPSU, a collaborative case study competition, and has attended several other hackathons across the country. She serves as an event manager for Major League Hacking, the official student hackathon league that organizes 250 events annually for more than 135,000 across the globe, for which she travels throughout North America twice a month to coordinate event logistics. “Our mission at Major League Hacking is to empower the hackers,” she said. “I’m so thankful because it aligns with my goals. I love the intersections of people and technology, and supporting the people learning and teaching others. That’s what really drives me.” O’Leary has brought these experiences back to campus with her involvement with Code for Her, a Penn State Libraries organization that offers free coding workshops for female and
“When people see me, I hope that they see empowerment and walking hope.”
Left: Kathyleen O’Leary shares a powerful message during the college’s “Sit With Me” campaign. Right: Alison Flanigan ’05 returned to the College of IST earlier this year as a guest speaker during Penn State Startup Week.
gender-diverse students, faculty, and staff. Code for Her strives to provide a welcoming learning environment for people of all backgrounds, free of judgment or intimidation while giving a flexible learning experience. The feedback from the participating women has been very encouraging, says O’Leary. “Our participants say they’ve become more confident not just with code but in presenting themselves in conversations about technology,” she said. “That has been so amazing to see.” She encourages women in technology to seek mentorship and engage with the opportunities offered by the College of IST. Her message in the “Sit with Me at IST” campaign reflected this inclusive and empowering attitude: “Diversity in tech because we all have the power to innovate.”
PROSPERING IN A MALE-DOMINATED WORKFORCE For students, each initiative, conversation, and touchpoint helps to prepare female graduates for success in a maledominated workforce. But the strong focus on empowering women in tech doesn’t end with graduation. Madison Oliver ’16, an associate vulnerability analyst in the CERT Division at the Software Engineering Institute in Pittsburgh, feels fortunate to have been able to prepare for the real-world environment while still in college. “At Penn State, I was in a lot of groups with primarily men, so being exposed to that so early was really helpful,” she said. “I’ve worked with a number of people who weren’t exposed to that until later and it was jarring to them. They didn’t know what to do or how to handle it. I felt very prepared.” The percentage of women in the industry often decreases as one moves up through the ranks, according to Angela Liberto ’04, who serves as senior corporate counsel for DICK’S Sporting Goods. In her role, she draws on her College of IST foundation and legal background to provide general counsel for the company’s technology business team and for the Team
Sports HQ , an all-in-one service that provides youth team sports leagues with tech solutions, equipment, team uniforms, and access to sponsorships and donations. Like Oliver, Liberto felt positioned to succeed in the workplace after building her confidence in the College of IST. “My advice [to female IST students] would be to trust in your abilities and keep a thick skin,” she said. “As a woman, you have as much of a right to be there as anyone else in the room. You deserve your seat at the table.”
A BALANCING ACT With the percentage of women working in tech at an already low rate, one might think that starting a family would cause those numbers to further dwindle. But for Alison Flanigan ’05, she believes — and hopes she’s inspiring others to see — that there can be work-life balance in a high-profile career, even when you’re a leader in your company. Flanigan serves as a cyber project manager at Booz Allen Hamilton, where she manages a portfolio of almost 300 people. She is also a mom of three, and expecting her fourth child this fall. “As a leader, you are asked to wear many hats,” she said. “The only way to truly be successful in finding balance while accomplishing outcomes is to develop and invest in a second team; the next generation of leaders. It would be hard to find a successful leader that operates on any teams of one.” Her leadership abilities were apparent long before motherhood. While a student in the then-School of IST, she launched the idea for what would become Pro Expo, the college’s fall career fair. “What I wanted to do was help fill the gap between IST’s internship requirement for students and the industry partners who were in need of this talent,” she said. That first Pro Expo featured approximately 20 companies and 60 attendees. With this year’s event welcoming 72 recruiters and more than 1,000 students seeking internships or Fall 2019 17
full-time employment, the event has outgrown its initial home on campus and is now held at the Nittany Lion Inn. “Getting exposure, learning professional etiquette, and gathering data about prospective employers are critical tools as young students are navigating their academic careers,” she said. “It will inform the decisions they make from electives, projects, and research, as well as give them that broader exposure of what’s out there.” Years later, at Booz Allen Hamilton, Flanigan was working as a deputy project manager and looking forward to the arrival of her third child. Then, right before she left for maternity leave, she was offered a promotion. “It made me feel valued for my aptitude and my accomplishments,” she said. “Knowing that my leadership saw that I had long-term potential versus a short-term out-of-office was important, as well as the investment, empowerment, and recognition of my abilities.” Like Flanigan, Marina Medvin ’06 has built a successful career and is embracing her role as both an advocate for women in the field and as a mother. While she earned her law degree after graduating from Penn State — and has become an award-winning attorney and media legal analyst — she regularly draws on the technical
She instills these values in her young daughter, whom Medvin considers her life’s greatest accomplishment. “Family is the most important part of [my] life, and being able to balance my work and my family gives me the greatest sense of joy,” she said. She passes lessons that she shares with her daughter on to current and future students — especially women — in the College of IST, with this advice: “Be you. You are who you are. Love yourself. Embrace yourself. Concentrate on your strengths. Don’t let insecurity enter your mind. Don’t restrict yourself. Unleash yourself onto the world. Think strong and you will be strong.”
AN OPPORTUNITY TO BE EXCELLENT Lynette Yarger, associate professor of IST, has devoted her research career to exploring the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in the information technology workforce. Her findings have influenced not only the workplace, but the end-user perspective as well. She came to Penn State as an educator after working a number of years in the communication technologies industry and earning her doctorate degree. “I saw through my research how important technology was in the world, and how it will continue to have more of an
“You can make an impact in this field and in this college and in this world.”
Lynette Yarger’s research gives a critical perspective of technology and how it can help and how it might unintentionally hurt underrepresented populations.
foundation she built in the College of IST. “I remember first thanking my lucky stars for my technology background when an FBI 10 Most Wanted fugitive was being prosecuted for fraud involving technology, among other things,” she said. While the gender gap in the legal industry isn’t nearly as high as it is in science, technology, engineering, and math fields, women still represent just 38% of lawyers nationally, according to the U.S. Census. Medvin has ignored the gender gap as she climbed up the ranks in her career, focusing on herself and her own abilities. “I didn’t think about being a woman; I thought about being successful,” she said. “I didn’t worry about anyone else’s ‘domination’ and instead I concentrated on my own path to dominance. My state of mind made me stronger and made me a true contender.”
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impact on people’s lives,” she said. “I was really struck by the difficulties people would face if they weren’t included, if they didn’t understand technology.” She added, “I educate because not only do I want people to have the skills, but I think more importantly I want students to have a critical perspective about technology and think about how it can help and how it might unintentionally hurt groups of people.” While Yarger continues to teach in the College of IST, she also is taking advantage of the opportunity to advocate for diversity and inclusion at Penn State. She recently accepted a part-time position as inaugural assistant dean for equity and inclusion at Schreyer Honors College. She continues to advocate for the notion that females can greatly influence the tech industry — and that they can each measure their own success. “When you think of women in technology, it’s often from this perspective that we’re underrepresented, that we have a harder way of things,” she said. “Not to diminish that, but I think that it also provides an opportunity to be excellent. If you work hard, if you try your best, if you set goals according to your own yardstick, I think that you can make a good impression and that you can make an impact in this field and in this college and in this world.”
WELCOMING A NEW GENERATION As a whole, the College of IST community celebrates the empowerment of women in the industry and the accomplishments of women in the college. Each year, students, alumni, faculty, and staff join together at the college’s Women in Technology celebration to honor some of the newest members of the IST community — the women who have been accepted into the college as students for the upcoming semester. “Nationally, the technology field is struggling to recruit and retain women in the industry,” said Ellison, who organized the 2019 dinner. “This event helps our incoming female students build and foster vital relationships that they can then lean on when they encounter challenges, or uplift them as they celebrate achievements throughout their college careers.” She added, “It is important for us to empower our female students now, long before the first week of classes, so that when they do arrive on campus they arrive with confidence, motivation, and support to hit the ground running.” Darah Kirstein ’07, vice president of technology product management at BNY Mellon, delivered the keynote address at this year’s dinner. She was named a “Woman of Influence” by the Pittsburgh Business Times in 2018. “I want to congratulate every single one of you for being here, and for choosing a career in technology, because you are part of the solution,” she said to the young women in attendance, noting the gender gap in the industry. “Tomorrow belongs to you.” In addition to the dinner program and reception, the accepted students participated in an escape room activity where they split into teams, were presented with a number of clues, and were challenged to crack the code of a hypothetical cybersecurity hack that compromised a top-secret Berkey Creamery recipe. Through the exercise, the students networked and built relationships, as well as got an introduction to the teambuilding activities that serve as a foundation in the College of
IST curriculum. The event is one of many initiatives the college is implementing to empower women for their own futures and for the future of the information technology industry. “I had a chance to talk to other girls in my position and to alumni and current students to hear what they are doing and what they hope their future will be like,” said incoming student Sarah Hochberg. “It was important to me to meet other incoming freshmen, faculty, staff, and current students because they gave me an amazing look at my future and how it will hopefully be.”
CREATING A CULTURE OF EMPOWERMENT Ellison’s objective is not only to recruit more women into the College of IST, but also to position them for real-world careers and experiences. “Our female students should be focusing on how they can leverage their knowledge and skills to solve real-world problems, not worrying whether or not their voices will be heard,” she said. “By providing a strong network of support, inclusive of all genders, we are able to empower our female students to discover and grow their confidence as they develop their skills for the workforce.” Through annual events like the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing and the College of IST Women in Technology celebration, and year-long student-led initiatives the College of IST is committed to providing a supportive network that fosters an inclusive environment. Even so, Ellison admits that, for many incoming female students, it can be intimidating to walk into their very first college classroom and see mostly men. That’s why she works to maintain a community of IST faculty, staff, peers, and alumni of all genders who are invested in creating a supportive atmosphere where women can flourish. “To me, the true success in our programs is seeing a young woman’s confidence grow as they build their network of support,” she concluded. “We’ve created a culture of empowerment and it is already showing.”
Newly admitted students at the 2019 Women in Technology celebration.
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ADVANCI N G IST researchers are leading the way in artificial intelligence breakthroughs.
Artificial intelligence (AI) often invokes visions of science fiction novels and futuristic Hollywood movies. But while HAL 9000 in “2001: A Space Odyssey” and C3PO in the “Star Wars” franchise make for entertaining viewing, sentient robots don’t accurately represent the current capabilities of AI. The term artificial intelligence was coined in 1956 at the famed Dartmouth Workshop, built on the idea that “every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it.” Researchers have since expanded on the concepts of neural networks, machine learning, and deep learning, where computers can think like rational humans by interpreting, learning from, and using data to make informed decisions. “The goal of AI to make the machine understand patterns and extract information from text, images, and other data,” explains Prasenjit Mitra, IST’s associate dean of research. “Our brains identify individual objects that make a whole from the parts — letters into words, words into sentences, and so on. We are trying to get machines to make progressively better decisions.” In the most basic sense, machines become intelligent when they’re programmed with basic rules and then fed massive amounts of data to be interpreted by those rules. “As we put in new information to existing solutions, we get better results,” explained Mitra. “But how we put that information in, what networks we are using, and what its features and representations are — that’s what the college’s AI research is about.” After a few periods of relatively little progress in the field, the AI revolution of the 21st century is being driven primarily by two factors: a huge increase in computing power and an explosion in the amount of data from which machines can learn — thanks largely to the internet and social media. Because of this, AI has moved from a primarily academic enterprise to being integrated into an endless number of everyday applications. It’s helping doctors provide better care, setting our insurance premiums, and recommending what we should watch next on Netflix. To drive these advances, nearly half of the College of IST’s research faculty are engaged in AI-related projects. They are identifying societal problems, adapting and improving existing algorithms, and creating novel solutions to ensure what works in the lab can be applied to the real world. IST researchers are exploring the technical challenges, practical applications, and ethical implications of AI in areas like health care, social justice, privacy, and infrastructure. Here’s a look at a few of their projects where interdisciplinary work is breaking new ground and forging new frontiers in artificial intelligence research. 20 iConnect Magazine
BY JORDAN FORD
PIONEERING BIOMEDICAL DISCOVERY When doctors think a patient may be sick, they’re often identifying outwardly observable symptoms. Confirming a disease like cancer, however, requires a more thorough and scientific approach. “Histology has traditionally been the gold standard for diagnosis in cancer research,” explained associate professor Sharon Huang. In histology, patient tissues are removed and cut into thin slices. Then, each cell is observed under a microscope to produce a high resolution image for analysis. “By looking at every single cell, we can differentiate which cells are normal, which are abnormal, and the grade of abnormality present,” said Huang. “But current use of histology is largely 2D in nature because you get very high resolution in a cross section but low resolution across slices, making it difficult to see the whole picture in 3D.” That’s why Huang is collaborating with pathologists in the Penn State Hershey Medical Center and radiologists at the University of Chicago to develop a potentially transformative, three-dimensional form of histology. “We’re building software that lets the computer automatically analyze gigabytes of X-ray microtomography data to detect every cell, outline its boundary, and quantify its morphology, size, and shape,” said Huang. “All the imaging and analysis are done in 3D.” “With 3D histology and AI-supported methods, doctors can look in any direction at any depth within a tissue sample and instantly get descriptive statistics on millions of cells,” explained Huang. “These advances could take the time needed to diagnose cancer from a few days to a few minutes.”
INTERVENING ON ADDICTION Researchers often assume the availability of resources typically found in the developed world, notes Amulya Yadav, assistant professor of IST. But this approach can ignore an important part of the population. “We’re focusing on communities of people who usually don’t have access to technology or can’t avail the benefits of AI, like individuals with developmental disorders or who don’t have internet access,” said Yadav. His work identifies issues affecting underserved groups and then bridges the gap with real-world AI solutions. “Currently, we’re looking at homeless youth who suffer from opioid addiction,” he described. “If we can predict based on data who is likely to become an addict, perhaps we can develop meaningful interventions.” Yadav has teamed up with Dr. Anamika Barman-Adhikari at the University of Denver, who has collected a huge data sample on homeless youth, including data on demographics, gang involvement, sexual behaviors, and other factors. Yadav is using this data to build sophisticated algorithms which can predict ahead of time which homeless youth are likely to become drug addicts. In addition, Yadav’s algorithms are also capable of understanding the hidden factors that lead to drug addiction among homeless youth. “Most interventions end with correlation. For example, 70% of the time someone is depressed, they’re likely to become an addict,” explained Yadav. “We’re trying to get a causation — is their depression due to poor mental health, poor financial stability, social influences, or some other factors? AI can help us find these answers.” He concluded, “Such an understanding can one day be used to develop personalized rehabilitation programs for homeless youth, which can hopefully put an end to the menace of drug abuse in our societies.”
CREATING EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE The omnipresence of smart devices gives us immediate access to the world of information, but many devices only offer a robotic, unemotional exchange. James Wang thinks that time is nearing an end. “This is just the beginning of an era where computers become more emotionally intelligent,” said Wang, professor of IST. “I imagine in another ten years we’ll see robots with human-like emotional intelligence in our homes and offices and providing services in the community.” To reach that vision of the future, computers must first be trained to identify and interpret humans’ emotional cues. Wang is leading a multidisciplinary team of researchers to investigate whether modern computer vision techniques can match humans’ cognitive ability in recognizing bodily expressions in real-world situations. If so, these capabilities might allow for innovative applications in areas including information management, public safety, patient care, and social media. “Computers and robots in the future will be interacting with more people,” Wang said. “Today’s computers, to a large extent, merely follow orders. In the future, robots and computers will act more like partners to humans and work together. And to do so, they’ll need to understand their emotions.” The researchers processed thousands of movie clips and built a dataset of more than 13,000 human characters with
nearly 10,000 body movements, which studies have shown may be more indicative of emotion than facial expressions. After using computer vision methods to track each person across the scene, human annotators reviewed the clips and categorized individual emotions into one of 26 categories — such as affection, fear, and surprise — and three dimensions of each emotion — valence, arousal, and dominance. Given how humans can interpret the same body language differently, the team invented state-of-the-art statistical techniques to validate quality-control mechanisms and analyze consensus of their verified data labels. “People don’t agree with each other when it comes to interpreting emotions,” explained Wang. “You may think a person is happy, I may think they’re excited, and perhaps both of us are correct. There’s often no ground truth.” They found that the computer model could identify arousal, or how energized the experience feels, with a high level of precision. However, the researchers also found that humans are better than computers at identifying the valence — how negative or positive the experience feels. “We want robots to understand your emotions, to express its emotions like a human. Otherwise, if it’s just a cold machine, you’ll treat it like a TV,” Wang said. “If we want to make the next generation of AI more interesting, emotion is the key.”
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SIMPLIFYING PRIVACY More than 90% of people consent to legal terms and conditions without reading them, according to a 2017 Deloitte survey. Reasons range from complex language, lack of time, length of material, and general indifference. “It’s the privacy paradox,” explained Shomir Wilson, assistant professor of IST. “People are concerned about privacy, but when they’re met with their options the easiest thing is often just to click ‘I agree.’ ” Now, Wilson and a team of researchers are applying natural language processing — a branch of AI focused on getting computers to understand the meaning of human language — to help people make more informed decisions related to privacy policies. “One of the goals of our research is to make privacy information and choices easily available, so instead of having to choose between reading and not reading the document, you have a simpler source of information that makes it reasonable to include privacy in your decision making,” said Wilson. While companies have the legal obligation to provide privacy policies, there is a gap between what is shared and what the common user can understand. Additionally, some users may not care if their information is shared, while others have stronger privacy concerns. “Privacy is different for everyone,” Wilson said. “It’s not necessarily about secrets, but about control over your information and the ability not to be bothered. Different people have different preferences.” The researchers will create mobile applications, web browser plugins, and interactive websites through their work in the areas of natural language processing, machine learning, and human-computer interaction. The interdisciplinary project aims to reinvent notice and choice — the idea that privacy policies are sufficient because users are given notice about how their information will be used and choices about what they can do in regard to the policy, such as opting out of certain features. Wilson said that they hope this shift from lengthy and difficult-to-understand policies to interactive privacy dialogues will help users be more informed and thoughtful about how they’re sharing their data. Wilson is also interested in helping people make more informed decisions related to other long documents that they’re obligated to read, such as terms of service agreements and financial disclosures. “If users are given information in ways they can understand, they’re more likely to make decisions that align with their interests and to feel secure,” he said. Wilson’s collaborators on this project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace program, are Norman Sadeh at Carnegie Mellon University and Joel Reidenberg at Fordham University.
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EXAMINING MANIPULATION “I used to begin my data ethics class each semester by saying that the technology we’re discussing is obviously valuable. We’re going to take that for granted and look at how all of this can go wrong,” explained Daniel Susser, assistant professor of IST and philosophy and a research associate with Penn State’s Rock Ethics Institute. “But these days I find students arrive already attuned to the risks, which I think reflects something about our broader social reckoning with technology.” A philosopher by training, Susser is investigating these questions at the intersection of technology, ethics, and policy. His research primarily explores the use of massive data collection tools to track, profile, and influence individuals, as well as the privacy and fairness concerns such practices give rise to, and the individual and societal risks of AI-driven, automated decision-making. Currently, he’s exploring the ways automated tools can be used to manipulate individual decision making. As data-driven tools become more capable, the lines between traditional influence and manipulation become harder to define, making it difficult for policy makers to regulate specific practices. “My co-authors and I thought, ‘let’s see if we can define manipulation, explain why information technology seems so well suited to manipulating people, and explain the harm that can come from it,’ ” said Susser. “Our goal is to help technologists and policy makers mitigate online manipulation by clarifying these conceptual lines.” Now, he’s examining additional questions that have been unearthed from that research, such as how online influence and manipulation relate to privacy. Recently, privacy advocates have been most concerned about information — what we share and what we don’t — but Susser believes that dealing with the proliferation of internet-enabled devices will require a more multifaceted view of privacy, which takes into account the privacy of physical spaces like the home or the doctor’s office. “To understand the threats we’re talking about in the information space, we need to treat privacy as a broader concept, encompassing concerns not only about the flow of information in the abstract but also where information is collected and about how it is used to influence our decision making,” explained Susser. “Philosophy is useful in defining the terms as these new issues are brought to the public’s attention,” Susser said. “We need a shared language with which to understand and negotiate how much privacy we’re willing to sacrifice and what information we’re willing to share in exchange for the benefits new technologies promise.”
ANALYZING SELF-DISCLOSURE The rise of social media, message boards, and other online forums has shifted conversations about privacy in multiple ways. “There are some general trends in changing attitudes and habits around privacy and information sharing,” said Sarah Rajtmajer, assistant professor of IST and a research associate with Penn State’s Rock Ethics Institute. “However, understanding why, when and how people choose to disclose, or unintentionally disclose, is largely unsolved.” Rajtmajer and Anna Squicciarini, associate professor of IST, are working with doctoral student Prasanna Umar on a project aiming to detect users’ online sharing patterns and learn about their decisions to disclose personal information, along with the contextual and peer influences on these decisions. She explained, “We try to supplement model-based frameworks for understanding human behavior, such as game theory, with data-driven approaches, like machine learning. We apply these ideas to understand privacy decision-making, but also online deviance and abuse.” In recent work, the researchers used AI to label hundreds of thousands of instances of online selfdisclosure according to eight categories, such as location or opinions. Then, they used machine learning to map patterns of social interactions and are working to understand user motivations. “By analyzing these complex social interaction networks, we can learn about user behaviors and try to figure out the dynamics, triggers, and influences on sharing,” said Squicciarini. While the researchers posit that people have mostly accepted that self-disclosed information will be used for commercial purposes, additional questions arise when considering how self-disclosed personal information might result in harmful consequences, for example cyberbullying, online manipulation, and even influence from foreign agencies. “Self-disclosure is a new way for us to look at how much users share in the context of online conversations,” said Squicciarini. “We try to identify contextual influences and whether they’re strong enough to elicit risky selfdisclosure.” “If you can infer someone’s age or ethnicity, or if they disclose their key beliefs, for example, it’s easier to target them with content that will appeal to — or manipulate — them,” explained Rajtmajer. “Understanding people based on the information they share is powerful.”
IMPROVING PATIENT CARE Compared to paper records, electronic health records (EHRs) allow medical professionals to more quickly share detailed patient information that can lead to optimized care and streamlined workflows. And this treasure trove of information is helping researchers like Vasant Honavar develop and apply AI tools and methods to uncover new factors linked to health risks and outcomes. “We want to predict health status from biomedical, clinical, genetic, environmental, behavioral, and sociodemographic data,” said Honavar, professor and Edward Frymoyer Chair of IST. “We’re working to understand how their complex interactions impact risks and outcomes, and identify the interventions that are likely to have the greatest impact on population health.” In his research, Honavar is working to understand the causal relationships between contextual factors and individual and population health. He’s developing AIbased methods to integrate EHR data with environmental and sociodemographic data, while also building infrastructures to standardize data from different sources. His goal is to identify optimal interventions, which are not always medical, but could involve changes in public policy. “Most work on machine learning in health care focuses on predicting risks and outcomes from the patient’s clinical history and other factors,” he explained. “But to decide on effective interventions that change outcomes, we need to understand how the different factors that are amenable to intervention causally impact the outcome.” Honavar notes that researchers increasingly find conditions like obesity or heart disease are impacted much more by factors other than genetics, namely contextual factors, such as access to grocery stores that sell healthy food or the pedestrian friendliness of neighborhoods. “With the help of AI, once we identify the factors that causally impact health outcomes, we can personalize and optimize the interventions to yield the greatest health benefits at the lowest cost,” he explained. Ultimately, Honavar notes that this research is essential to develop real-world solutions that improve all aspects of individual and population health, from early identification of those at risk to optimizing the clinical workflow that determines how the patients navigate through the complex maze of doctors, hospitals, and insurance. “We need to figure out how to keep people healthy, and it’s not just about inventing a new drug,” concluded Honavar. “Without fundamental research on causal inference, and transparency, accountability, and explainability of AI, you can’t tackle the most pressing societal challenges.”
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24 iConnect Magazine
RJ Shirey overcomes life-changing trauma and uses his disability to benefit lives of those around him. A suicide vest and a shotgun. A young man bleeding out with a critical bullet wound. A team of first responders dragging victims through the snow. It may sound like a scene from a movie, but it’s a scenario that RJ Shirey has seen many times in real life. A sophomore in the College of Information Sciences and Technology, Shirey serves as an adjunct instructor for Techline Technologies, Inc. — a Pennsylvania-based mannequin manufacturer — where he acts in advanced trauma simulations aimed at training emergency responders. Shirey was drawn to the role, in part, because he knows firsthand what it’s like to be in an emergency situation. In 2016, he suffered a life-threatening gunshot wound that would lead to the amputation of his right leg.
BY JESSICA HALLMAN
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‘A NEW ME’
to charge fellow students’ phones using a USB port in his prosthetic leg, and once went to school with the artificial leg wrapped in flashing Christmas lights. “I make jokes because you have to find the good in it,” he said.
It was early in the morning on the first day of spring gobbler season in central Pennsylvania. Shirey and his father woke up early to get to the woods. With the night sky still above them, Shirey lifted his shotgun from his shoulder. The trigger “Find passion in your life and find a way to caught on his jacket, sending a slug point-blank into his right leg just below the knee, and exiting through his calf. use your disability in whatever way possible “I looked down and didn’t see much blood and didn’t to benefit your life and those of others think it was that bad,” he said. “My dad called 911 and around you.” planned to meet the EMTs at the nearest gas station. He loaded me in the truck, and that’s when I could see my bone, the severed artery, and through my leg to the floor of the truck. That’s when the pain kicked in. It was immense.” Badly wounded and in a remote area, Shirey got to the gas station to meet the paramedics. Once they arrived — 45 minutes later — he was fitted with a tourniquet, loaded onto a stretcher, and transported to a nearby hospital where he underwent bypass surgery. He was then airlifted to Pittsburgh and woke up in the intensive care unit. After surviving the initial wound and receiving 30 units of blood — enough for four adults — his body began to shut down due to the trauma. His kidneys failed, then his lungs collapsed. He stopped breathing on two separate occasions. Citing great medical care, a strong will to live, and a little luck, Shirey soon took a turn for the better. He was eventually moved out of the ICU but required near-daily surgeries to clear out dead tissue. Finally, after two weeks in the hospital, doctors told him the news: they wouldn’t be able to save his leg. It was amputated on May 13, 2016. “When you lose a limb, it’s as if you died but you’re still here,” he said. “You lost a part of you. It was a new me; I had to get used to it.”
LIVING HIS BEST LIFE Though Shirey felt like a different person, he didn’t expect others to treat him like one. However, when he arrived for his junior year of high school with a prosthetic leg and a crutch, many of his friends didn’t approach him. Other students stared or turned away. “The first student in the school to walk up to me and say, ‘welcome back’ was a student with Down syndrome,” said Shirey, “A kid who also knows the struggle of having physical challenges. That interaction meant so much to me.” While Shirey knows that many people stare at him because they’re uncomfortable or don’t know what to say, he encourages them to be more open minded. “I might be 80% human and 20% robot, but I’m still a person,” he said. “Because it’s something physical that happened to me, people treat me differently. Everybody has struggles, whether visible or invisible. For people like me who suffer major injuries or are born with disabilities, it’s not our fault. That’s how it is. We’re just trying to live life the best we can.” He continued, “Instead of staring, ask ‘how did it happen?’ When people ask me about my leg, I am so happy.” Shirey often tries to break the ice with humor. He’ll offer 26 iConnect Magazine
RJ Shirey set national records in both the javelin and shot put in the Tri-State Wheelchair & Ambulatory Athletics regional competition this summer.
He shares the same advice for anyone facing a similar physical or mental handicap. “Don’t let it define you, but don’t be afraid to let it dictate something you might do,” he said. “Be positive, embrace it, accept it. Find passion in your life and find a way to use your disability in whatever way possible to benefit your life and those of others around you.”
TURNING TRAGEDY INTO TRIUMPH When Shirey lost his leg, he said that many doors and possibilities closed for him. But through his determination, other surprising opportunities arose. In addition to his job as a combat medicine trainer for Techline, Shirey participates in competitive sports. He is a member of the Penn State Ability Athletics team and has qualified for nationals in javelin and shot put in the Paralympics. He won first place in javelin and shot put in the Adaptive Sports Junior Nationals in Minnesota on July 17 — which also happened to be his 19th birthday.
Above: Showing his physical and mental strength and determination, RJ is now successfully (and quickly!) able to climb a rock wall. Right: RJ (left) with fellow Techline combat medicine trainers.
And, in the recent TSWAA Tri-State regional competition, Shirey set national records in both the javelin and shot put competitions. Shirey’s claim to fame doesn’t stop with being a star Paralympic athlete. He also has played a role in an upcoming Netflix film, serving as a body double in “Nice Girl” for a character with an amputated leg. “I taught the actor how to walk as though he’d have a wobble a year after an injury,” Shirey said. “We also practiced hopping. It was such a cool experience.” He says the biggest impact he’s making, however, is through his work with Techline. While one might think that reenacting his injury repeatedly would have an emotional effect on him, he says that it makes him happy to help people learn how to respond in an emergency situation. “It’s how you perceive it,” said Shirey, reflecting on how he’s able to use his life-changing injury to benefit society. “I’m helping to train people. We have had numerous reports where our students have gone on to respond to shooting situations. And the knowledge that we taught them helped save lives.”
OPENING THE DOOR TO IST Shirey, a State College native, first came to Penn State with the intent of becoming an astrophysicist. But during an IST summer session class, he met assistant teaching professor Nick Giacobe, who as a volunteer with the Pleasant Gap (Pa.) Fire Co. has a background in emergency response. “He opened the door for me to IST,” said Shirey. “I got to bond with him and talked with him at the end of the summer session.” The exposure that Shirey got to the curriculum, along with his interactions with Giacobe, led him to change his major
to security and risk analysis in the fall of his freshman year. Giacobe guided Shirey in what courses he should take to maximize his education. “We discussed what routes I could follow to go into industries like government or health care,” said Shirey. “He really made it clear and literally showed me the path necessary in order to graduate with a degree.” Through his classes in the College of IST, Shirey has been introduced to the importance of teamwork. His freshman year was filled with group projects and papers. “It was an adjustment to work with people,” he said. “You get a mixture of people in every group, and it’s difficult when some don’t speak effectively or communicate well. But if someone can take the skills they learn in these projects and apply them to their future career, it will definitely help them out.” Shirey hopes to work in counterterrorism after he graduates, which, he describes, is quite an accomplishment for someone who was close to death just three years ago. “The fact that I survived was not supposed to happen,” he said. “Somehow I didn’t bleed out entirely.” But, he said, perhaps his survival can be credited to a dream he had while still in the hospital — the single happy dream among a string of nightmares he experienced while taking heavy pain medication. “In the dream, there was a light blue filter on everything,” he recalled. “I was looking out the kitchen window, and my two sons were running around the front yard. I wanted to run with them, but I couldn’t because I had one leg.” “But that dream motivated me,” he continued. “I was lying in bed on life support, thinking ‘why am I alive?’ But I realized that I needed to live to see my future kids run. The will to live saved me.”
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DOUBLING THE IMPACT Alumni and friends who wish to show their financial support for the College of IST can now double the impact of their gift, through the new Dean’s Advisory Board Matching Scholarship Program. The initiative will match endowed gifts 1:1 to benefit students in the college with financial need. Through the program, donors who commit $25,000 or more, payable over five years, will have their support matched by the college’s Advisory Board, doubling the gift to at least $50,000. The scholarships will directly support underrepresented or firstgeneration college students, or students who have demonstrated financial need to meet their necessary college expenses. Dave Caruso ’04 and his wife have supported this initiative to ensure that more students have the opportunity to attend the college that greatly influenced his own life. “I hope that they are able to receive an education that they will be able to use the rest of their lives,” Caruso said. “It’s as simple as that. I hope our support can impact as many lives as possible in a positive way.” Caruso, who serves as an independent consultant and contractor advising clients on growth strategies and transformation, said that he built his foundation for professional success at the College of IST and wants to pay it forward. “It was the combination of business and technical aspects of the college that makes IST stand apart,” he said. “It was a great experience and a great way to shape my career, and giving back is a way to allow others to do the same.” Long-time supporter Scott Jaworski and his wife Natalie have also supported the matching scholarship program as a way to make a larger, more sustained contribution to the college — even though neither of them graduated from the College of IST. As Penn Staters, they want to help make it possible for
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Contact the Office of Development and Alumni Relations to learn how you can give, volunteer, and connect to make an impact on the College of IST. email@example.com | (814) 863-8848 Mike Weyandt
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“Our goal is to
underrepresented or firstalleviate some generation students, like of the financial Scott was, to attend the burden that University. Both Scott and Natalie graduated from may prevent a Penn State with student very qualified loans, which he said was candidate from stressful in the early stages attending a of their careers. university like “Speaking from personal experience, Penn State.” as a first-generation college student it can be overwhelming to navigate To learn more about the world of college the College of IST Dean’s Advisory applications and financial Board Matching support when selecting Scholarship program, your college,” said contact Mike Weyandt Scott, who now serves firstname.lastname@example.org as a director of solution engineering at Salesforce. “Our goal is to alleviate some of the financial burden that may prevent a very qualified candidate from attending a university like Penn State.” He added, “Additionally, we feel it is critical to encourage diversity at Penn State, as we believe more diversity will only add to making Penn State a great university. We see it every day in our jobs — the more diverse the work group, the more successful they are at delivering results and innovation.”
ENDORSING THE VALUE OF AN IST DEGREE “I plan on beginning my career in the service of my country, either as a part of the United States Armed Forces or a government intelligence agency. I am actively pursuing an unpaid position in the United States Army that I can fill while I attend school. Your gift has eased the financial burden on my family and made things like this possible.” Those are the words of appreciation from a College of IST student, who is the recipient of a new scholarship funded by Gregory Roszyk and Marnie Salisbury. Given their career aspirations the student asked not to have their name published, but they are one of dozens of students who are able to pursue a College of IST degree thanks to the generosity of financial contributors. Roszyk, who graduated in 1989 from the Eberly College of Science, said that when he and Salisbury earned their degrees in computer science, they entered the job market with skills that were in high demand. “We have watched the field grow and diversify in the past 30 years,” said
Roszyk. “The College of IST offers a range of programs in analytics and data science — two of the hottest careers around today. Earning a degree from IST will definitely prepare a student for a successful career in private industry or public service.” He added, “The College of IST
provides a unique experience for students to learn about technology, to develop an understanding of people and organizations, and to think about how they all work together. By starting this scholarship, we hope we are helping a student to complete his or her undergraduate degree and pursue a career with less burden of student debt.” While Roszyk and Salisbury did not graduate from the College of IST, their experience in the industry gives them a first-hand look at the value of an IST degree. Roszyk is the director of national systems for Apogee Integration, LLC, while Salisbury serves as technical director for the MITRE Corporation. They encourage other prospective donors — regardless of where they studied or how much they can give — to consider supporting IST and the students who are being trained to be leaders in the field. Concluded Roszyk, “The College of IST is relatively new and has taken on the important challenge of helping individuals unlock their creativity and thrive in the digital age.”
GIVING THANKS For many students, receiving a scholarship can be a mix of excitement and relief. And when students get to meet the donors who have provided this support, it often leads to an unforgettable experience. That was the case for 14 IST students when they met Mike and Rosemary Laphen. The donors, who created The Mike and Rosemary Laphen Scholarship in 2017, recently hosted breakfast for the recipients of their award. The gift provides a $10,000 annual scholarship and personal mentoring each recipient for four years. “Receiving this scholarship helps me recognize the success I have achieved so far and encourages me to continue to do my best. I have less stress about paying for college and more time to dedicate to my studies as well as to my close relationships and hobbies, which help me maintain a healthy lifestyle.” said Britani Lingafelt (sophomore, cybersecurity analytics and operations). “The Laphen’s generosity and desire to get to know their scholarship’s recipients is inspiring.”
Through their scholarship, the Laphens hope to support the college’s efforts to increase diversity in technology-related careers and help students build their networks. Said Rosemary Laphen, “From my own experience, when you enter a program, it is really nice to have a group of people to connect with. I want to help these students feel a sense of belonging at IST right from the start.”
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PAST AND PRESENT IST leaders, faculty, staff, alumni, and students gathered at the Nittany Lion Inn on October 3 to conclude a yearlong celebration of the college’s 20th anniversary. A series of speakers — including Penn State President Eric J. Barron and Jim Thomas, the college’s founding dean — delivered remarks, which celebrated four pillars that serve as the college’s foundation: innovation, inclusion, leadership, and community.
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1. Guests reminisce by finding classmates in the IST yearbook. 2. Advisory Board member Elizabeth King ’79 connects with undergraduate Alair Moody-Daniels. 3. Dean Andrew Sears shares remarks on the value of the IST community.
4. Current students gather for a group photo during the reception. 5. Penn State President Eric Barron welcomes guests to the celebration. 6. Alison Flanigan ’05 connects with her husband, Eric, before delivering remarks on leadership. 7. Members of IST’s first graduating class pose with Dr. Jim Thomas, IST’s founding dean. 8. Alison Murphy ’04 and Maggie Sapovchak ’03 capture a candid moment. 9. Undergraduate Alex Woodruff discusses a Nittany Data Labs collaboration with Disney.
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UPCOMING ALUMNI NETWORKING EVENTS Philadephia March 2020 Northern Virginia April 2020
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