First-generation student celebrates success as IST student marshal

Joselyne Mera Vargas

Joselyne Mera Vargas, College of Information Sciences and Technology student marshal for the fall 2019 semester.

Credit: Hayley Wildeson

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Since Joselyne Mera Vargas (senior, security and risk analysis) moved to the United States from Ecuador when she was 9 years old, she has developed valuable leadership and communication skills, discovered a passion for data science, and completed a summer internship at Harvard University. To celebrate all that Vargas has achieved during her time at Penn State, she has been selected as the College of Information Science and Technology’s student marshal for the fall commencement ceremony on Dec. 21.

As a first-generation college student, receiving her undergraduate diploma has always been a dream. Being chosen to serve as the student marshal makes the experience extra rewarding, she said.

“It is an honor to represent the College of IST because it has been such a big part in my experience at Penn State,” Vargas said. “So many of the opportunities I have gotten here have really helped me to develop my skills and connect with people I might not have connected with otherwise.”

Vargas began her collegiate journey at Penn State Lehigh Valley. There she explored several different interests, including business and policy, but she also enjoyed working with technology. Her friends showed her some of the work they were doing within IST, and she realized it could be a great fit for personal and professional goals.

On campus, Vargas found many opportunities to get involved and pursue leadership positions. She served as president and event coordinator for the Lion Ambassadors, as well as the director of communications for the Blue and White Society. She also participated in New Student Orientation as a group leader. These roles provided her with important leadership skills and prepared her for the move to the University Park campus.

But as she made the transition, she struggled to meet other students. However, the small college feel at the College of IST allowed her to quickly get involved and connect with her peers.

“When I first came [to University Park], I felt like I didn’t know anyone,” Vargas said. “I knew a few people who moved here [from Lehigh Valley], but I didn’t know many people in the College of IST.”

She added, “That was a big transition for me. The College of IST is a welcoming community. I got involved in multiple things, so I have gotten to meet a lot of people.”

Soon after, Vargas earned a summer research fellowship with the Institute of Quantitative Social Sciences at Harvard University. Through the experience, she was able to get hands-on experience with data science projects that encompassed current social topics.

Vargas currently balances her studies with her role as a learning assistant for the College of IST and as a data analyst and office manager for the Geospatial Data Analysis Corporation, where she collects, organizes and seeks patterns in data.

“I have learned to work with people from outside my major, and that has been helpful for my internships,” she said. “I am able to communicate with different people from different backgrounds, which has been really impactful.”

As her last semester wraps up at Penn State, Vargas reflects on her college experience.

“I have gained a lot of leadership experience and have grown as an individual,” Vargas said. “The tools and resources that I got from the College of IST helped me succeed. The college prepares you to take problems you don’t know much about and be able to work through them.”

After graduation, Vargas will begin a full-time cyber risk position with Deloitte in the company’s financial risk and advisory practice.