Hall Pass

(Photo credit: Adam Stavely, IST ‘14)

This weekend will mark the undergraduate and graduate spring commencement ceremonies for our 2013 graduating students. On Saturday, we will have 132 students graduating from University Park with a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in Information Sciences and Technology and 56 students graduating from University Park with B.S. degree in Security and Risk Analysis. We will also be conferring degrees to five bachelor of science online degree students and one associate online degree student. In addition, there are 39 students graduating from our college with a B.S. degree in IST from various other campuses and 9 students graduating from our college with an A.S. degree in IST.

On Sunday at the graduate graduation ceremony, we will award diplomas to one student in the Master of Science (M.S.) program, one student in the Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Information Sciences, Software Development option program, four students in the MPS in Homeland Security, Information Security and Forensics program, and seven students in the Ph.D. program. The Ph.D. graduates will also be hooded during the event.  

Each of these students and their supporting families and friends has worked hard to achieve this goal.  This is a cause for celebration and congratulations.  As faculty and staff we are very pleased that these students have achieved this goal and hope they will stay connected with Penn State and IST with frequent visits.

Our speaker for the undergraduate ceremony will be Dr. Mica Endsley.  We are particularly fortunate that Dr. Endsley has agreed to join us in these celebrations.  Dr. Endsley is president of SA Technologies, a cognitive engineering firm specializing in the analysis, design, measurement and training of situation awareness in advanced systems, including the next generation of systems for aviation, air traffic control, medical, power, military operations, homeland security, and cyber. She received a Ph.D. in industrial and systems engineering from the University of Southern California. Prior to forming SA Technologies, she was a visiting associate professor at MIT in the department of aeronautics and astronautics and associate professor of industrial engineering at Texas Tech University. She has authored more than 200 scientific articles on situation awareness, decision–making, and automation. She is co-author of Analysis and Measurement of Situation Awareness and Designing for Situation Awareness. She is the immediate past-president of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

While Dr. Endsley is not a Penn State alumnus, she has shown her support to Penn State and to IST by having her daughter, Tristan, join us in our Ph.D. program.

With the exception of the remarks by Dr. Endsley, the graduation ceremonies are tightly scripted—from the opening precession, to the singing of the national anthem, authorization to grant degrees by a representative of the Board of Trustees, to the degree ceremony, and ultimately the final procession, the event proceeds with well-defined steps.  The graduation speaker has a particular challenge.  They have limited time and must seek to provide a combination of congratulations, insight, and even inspiration.  This is not an easy task.  When I first became dean of the college, I was given the task of being the speaker for the graduate degree ceremony; a task that I learned is a kind of “right of passage” for new deans at Penn State.  While I have given literally hundreds of technical talks, this was one of the most challenging talks I ever did.  I won’t tell you how many drafts of the speech I threw away, especially after conferring with my wife as a trial audience.  I think the speech went well – I don’t remember now what I said, and I doubt the graduates did either.  In any event, it was a wonderful experience.  

My role in Saturday’s graduation ceremony is a kind of “master of ceremonies” that is well scripted.  I look forward to the ceremony because of the joy of the students and their families and friends.  I especially look forward to my favorite line in the ceremony—when I get to say, “Please join me in congratulating our new graduates!”

Store Front

Nearly 20 years ago, I was laid off from a local aerospace company, which had “downsized” from about 1400 State College employees to about 400 in the span of a year and a half.   I counted myself relatively lucky.   I was in the last wave of the layoffs, and through the years had published numerous papers, written many proposals, and had developed a bit of a reputation in the field of multi-sensor data fusion, having given a number of 2-day seminars around the county on the topic.    In anticipation of the layoff, I had created a self-comforting “plan B” file that I carried with me containing a sequence of steps I would take; a list of potential clients, potential personal cost-savings measures, and thoughts for a small startup company.  The actual layoff came as a relief.   As a mid-level manager in the company, I had had the odious duty of laying off a number of long-term employees many of whom had never looked for another job since joining the company years earlier and who were unprepared for the eventuality of a layoff.

The week of the layoff, I gathered my wife and a few friends who had also been laid off, and we started a small company dedicated to technology training and consulting.  We created an office in my basement and began the process of selecting and registering a company name, obtaining the services of an attorney, developing a preliminary business plan, and buying some computer equipment and peripherals to create our company “infrastructure”.    Without bragging or going into details, I note that we developed and marketed a technical training product, won a Ben Franklin small business grant, bid and won phase I and phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants and became moderately profitable within one year.   I subsequently joined The Pennsylvania State University Applied Research Laboratory, and left the company in the capable hands of my wife, oldest daughter, and founding colleagues.

During the start up period, we arranged to rent office space in State College and created a “store front”; a physical presence to host visitors and house our minimum development space needs.   Despite the modest physical space and limited computer equipment, the costs strained our budget.  As I reflect upon that valuable experience, it strikes me that it is both much easier and more challenging to start up a company.     The easy part involves the wide availability of resources for entrepreneurship and startups.    First, one no longer needs a physical “store front” or location.    Much business is now conducted electronically via the web.   One can literally work out of your living room or dorm room and create a web site using resources such as those from Weebly.com.   If a physical presence is actually needed, then services such as cloud virtual office  (www.cloudvirutaloffice.com) allow you to have an impressive corporate address, custom answering service, locations for day offices, access to meeting rooms, and formal client reception.  Other services include use of local graphic design and printing services (e.g., via Kinkos or Office Max), access to extensive online materials for creating documents (e.g., www.clipart.com), availability of consulting and development support for computer programming and app development, and numerous online resources. 

Penn State students, alumni, faculty and staff are fortunate to have access to a wide array of resources ranging from free training, mentoring, access to technical expertise and library resources, specialized courses, access to student organizations (such as Innoblue, Nittany Entrepreneurs, SparkPlug), the ability to participate in numerous events such as our own Startup Week and access to numerous consulting and networking possibilities.   In IST we are in the process of developing a special website to make these resources easily accessible via a one-stop-shopping entrepreneurship portal.    In addition, this summer, IST will develop a special Innovation Laboratory that provides computer and software facilities to support the development of information technology ideas, concepts and products.  These will be featured in future Hall Pass entries.

Our ultimate goal is to provide our students with training, resources and connections to make entrepreneurship (and intrapreneurship) relatively easy.   More important, our goal is to inculcate an attitude of self-reliance, creativity, and “can do”.     As I learned over 20 years ago, the ultimate job security is “paying your own salary”.    This can be accomplished by many different methods; starting your own business, creating your own job and area of expertise within a larger organization, continually expanding your skills and expertise, or becoming known as “the go-to problem solver” within your organization.  

The hard part is not the infrastructure or setting up the Store Front, the hard part is developing and maintaining  an attitude of self-reliance and continual vigilance. 

Cyber Storage Wars


One of my many guilty secrets is that I occasionally like to watch the television show Storage Wars (http://www.aetv.com/storage-wars/).  For those not familiar with it, it involves the idea of people bidding on the unknown contents of storage units that have been confiscated by a storage company due to lack of payment by the renters.  Each episode opens with a cast of characters who are dramatically shown a storage unit whose lock has just been cut by the auctioneer.  The potential buyers are given a few minutes to look at the opening of the container, but are not allowed to look inside or inspect the contents of the container.  The characters each have their own personalities; Barry Weiss, the flamboyant collector of arcane artifacts; Jarrod Schultz and Brandi Passante, a husband-and-wife team who fight over whether or not and how much to bid to keep their small business alive; Dave Hester, the disciplined consignment store owner, and several others.  The camera shows these characters speculating on the contents of the container, talking to their cohorts about their strategy and intentions for bidding, and sometimes egging each other on.  After each auction, the show continues with an overly dramatized picking through the container to see if there are any hidden gems, and follow up as the new owner of the artifacts (and usually junk) seek advice from experts to determine the value of the artifact. A score is provided, comparing the amount the auction winner paid for the contents of the container compared to the estimated potential sale value of the contents.  The goal of the participants is to outsmart their competitors and buy materials that can be resold at much higher values.  Hence, success on the show depends upon their patience in an auction, knowledge of the true value of “artifacts” and ability to find buyers for the newly purchased items. 

I wonder whether this concept will come to cyber-space. As the ever increasing pile of data continues to accumulate on the web, it is inevitable that much or perhaps most of the data will become abandoned. Are there hidden gems in that data heap?  Digital treasures might include new technologies that are described but never patented, sensor data that could allow identification of valuable environmental resources, unpublished manuscripts of famous authors,  and information that a company or organization already has, but doesn’t know it has (and hence can be “sold” to them).  New business opportunities could include meta-data generation (creating data about data), data categorization services, data “search firms”, and data brokering services.  One could even develop services to locate and find specific data with an associated “finder’s fee.”  It would even feasible to create a service that seeks to rank or rate data and data sources, a sort of Angie’s List for data and data sources.

A large number of opportunities and strategies exist.  Think, for example, of how e-Bay created a global yard sale. E-Bay users range from people who simply want to clean out their basement or attic, to yard sale hobbyists who go to yard sales in their local community and subsequently list items of e-Bay, to those who troll e-Bay, looking for undervalued items that they can re-post and sell for a profit.  As data becomes more widespread on the internet, such enterprises are bound to happen.  It is also interesting to think about data conversion services, software and devices that convert data from floppy disks, 3½ inch diskettes, reel-to-reel tapes, CDs and other devices to become accessible for a user.

I’m sure these enterprises are coming – some are likely to be created by IST students.  Shortly thereafter the new TV series, Cyber Storage Wars, will debut, soon to be followed by Data Hoarders!

Start-up Week 2013 Retrospective

I must confess that I’ve had a number of sleepless nights, concerned with how well Start-up Week 2.0 would go.  After all, the inaugural Start-up Week last year generated much excitement, sparked energy from the visiting entrepreneurs, students, faculty, and staff, and set a high standard for all subsequent events. For the first Start-up Week, it was both a blessing and curse that we only had a few weeks to plan everything, from conception through completion.  I simply didn’t have enough time last year to be worried, and since it was the first event, there was no comparison bar.  By contrast, for Start-up Week 2013, we had six months of planning and high expectations to exceed the previous year’s event. I shouldn’t have worried; the IST team made this Start-up Week 2013 a huge success. 

The IST Start-up Week committee and support team included: Joyce Matthews, Maureen Kilian, Chris Milito, Julie Coughlin, Madhavi Kari, Kathy Wiest, Melissa Hicks, Brandon Wagner, Emilee Spokus, Jenn Stubbs, Jenn Bury, Stephanie Buck, Nicki Yankoski, Kelly Bryan, Stephanie Koons, and Ed Glantz.  This team was supported by IST faculty who graciously opened their courses as a venue for our visitors to provide lectures, working exercises, panels, and Q&A sessions.  In addition, a number of IST students acted as student ambassadors and dynamic concierges for our visiting entrepreneurs.  

The events of this past week were extraordinary.  The week began with a presentation by Rod Murchison of Tripwire and proceeded throughout the week with lectures and interactive events by:

·         Todd Bacastow ‘05, DigitalGlobe

·         Tikhon Bernstam, Scribd and Parse

·         Matt Brezina ‘03, Sincerely

·         Brennan Burkhart ‘99, Redkite

·         David Carlino ‘09, NSAi and Redspin

·         Erik Davidson ‘08, ‘10, Buzby Networks

·         Keith Deaven ‘90, Mediabarn

·         Rajiv Eranki, formerly of Dropbox

·         Chris Fanini ‘12, Weebly

·         Heather Gay, Mediabarn

·         Rick Grazzini ‘75, ‘93, GardenGenetics

·         David Hua ‘04, Sincerely

·         Steve Huffman, Reddit and Hipmunk

·         Justin Kan, Exec, TwitchTV, and Justin.tv

·         Jimmy Mesta ‘09, Redspin

·         Bob Morgan ‘89, MorganFranklin

·         Rod Murchison ‘91, Tripwire

·         Bryson A. Nobles ‘04, SongSplits Solutions

·         Thomas Petrini, Evive

·         David Rusenko ‘07, Weebly

·         Michael Seibel, Socialcam

·         Paul Silvis ‘06, SilcoTek

·         Pamela Sorensen ‘94, Pamela’s Punch

·         Mark Tufano ‘09, Brightly Digital

·         Dan Veltri ‘07, Weebly

·         Kathleen Warner ‘14, Innoblue

·         Ethan Wendle, DiamondBack Automotive Accessories

This year, IST collaborated with Penn State’s College of Engineering, College of Agricultural Sciences, and the Smeal College of Business to bring more speakers and event-goers to the week-long celebration.  Details of the activities and events can be found at the website. The week ended with a Hackathon, which was covered by Chris Velazco on TechCrunch. I was very impressed by the dedication of our IST team as well as by the openness of our speakers who readily shared advice for young entrepreneurs as well as personal stories about their life journeys.

The volume of event coordination, marketing, and IT support needed to carry this out was immense. The attention to detail was impressive and was evident to all the speakers and participants. I recognize this has been a six-month process and that the IST team contributed many, many hours to coordinate and execute such a high-profile event. I am certain our college will see long-term benefits in the important areas of branding, development, and recruitment. #ISTstartup is a brand that is going to stick.

Thanks again for all who participated and worked so hard to make Start-up Week 2013 a huge success. 

Inspiration 2.0


Kathleen Warner, Penn State student and president of Innoblue

It’s only the second day of IST’s Start-up Week, and already I am amazed at the activities and quality of speakers who have come to visit IST classes. In just two days, we have had speakers such as Rod Murchison, vice president of product management at Tripwire, Inc., Keith Deaven, co-founder of Mediabarn, Heather Gay, director of research initiatives for Mediabarn, Jimmy Mesta  senior security engineer for Redspin, Bryson Nobles, co-founder of Songsplits Solutions, LLC, and David Carlino of Redspin. Despite the snowstorm on Monday, these highly successful entrepreneurs have traveled to Penn State at their own expense (from places such as California, Colorado, Virginia and New York).  

What is amazing to me is the openness and enthusiasm of each speaker.    Not only have they provided information about how to start and grow companies, develop business concepts, interact with venture capitalists and investors, and evaluate products and markets, they have also provided some detailed technical information on areas such as computer security, networking, media research, and other areas. In addition, they have shared their personal stories, described how they got to their current situation, shared the challenges they have faced, and provided advice for current IST students. 

It is very heartening to hear their genuine enthusiasm about what they’re currently doing and their perspectives on the opportunities for IST graduates. If you have not yet attended any Start-up Week sessions, I would highly recommend that you do. These sessions provide opportunities for information about IST in the real world, networking, and also a source of inspiration.

I can hardly wait for the rest of the week!