Rhykerd and Zazworsky asked the students to help answer some timely questions: “How do existing and emerging privacy laws and regulations impact Sheetz?” and “What privacy rules and regulations are affecting the retail industry in general or what could be in the near future?” Stores like Sheetz, with thousands of daily customers, are highly visible targets for scammers; late in 2019 the Pennsylvania-based Wawa convenience store chain acknowledged a data breach that involved hundreds of their stores. With that in mind, Rhykerd says he and Zazworsky “agree that the students’ research will help us drive the narrative into business units to help Sheetz stay ahead of the constantly changing privacy landscape.”
Working with an established corporation gave the students real-life experience in the business world, where time is money. “We had a tight deadline for the deliverables of the project and the students were able to effectively manage their time to ensure that they were able to deliver the research to Sheetz,” Rhykerd says. “We look forward to these types of engagements to help students in the cybersecurity industry gain real world experience in a corporate setting.”
At the close of the eight-week program, team members had the opportunity to present their work in a corporate setting—the new Sheetz campus in Claysburg—which gave them both a taste of the corporate world and the experience of making a professional presentation. The prospect of working with a well-known, respected company such as Sheetz attracted some of the domestic students to the program. Robert Alvarado, a senior majoring in SRA, says the program was a “good fit” for seeing “how technology works in the workforce.” Eugene Ryoo, a sophomore at University Park, said the program would give him the opportunity to use “what I’ve been learning in the classroom in a real project.” Brandon Gergely, senior in SRA, called it “an amazing opportunity.” Another senior SRA major, Vaibhav Patel, said the group’s visit to the Sheetz corporate office was his “most memorable experience.”
More than one student noted that they signed up for the Global Fellows program because they knew students who had done it in prior years and recommended it. Nick Rosario, a senior with a major in SRA and a minor in IST, said, “I have several peers who did this program in the past and they all loved it and learned a lot of valuable communication skills.” Junior SRA major Zachary Swartz said he had “heard good things about it from former participants” and so he signed on.
As with past Global Fellows programs, the students attended Korean culture classes. The Korean students also worked on improving their English skills with Ingrid Das, lecturer in English at Penn State Altoona. The students appreciated the assist: when asked why she signed on for Global Fellows, Gayeong Choi said, “I thought it was a good opportunity to practice English.” And at the end of the program, another member of the team, Yoojin Jang, said, “I think my English communication skill and writing ability have improved.”
Das enjoys her role as ESL teacher and values her Korean cohort. In a note of appreciation to them, she said, “Writing technical documents is not easy. Writing technical documents in a foreign language is an even greater challenge. However, this excellent group of students from Seoul Women’s University bravely accepted this challenge and worked as hard as they could to produce good results. Whatever task I gave them, they never said, ‘no, we can’t do that.’ They always said, ‘yes,’ ‘okay,’ ‘we’ll do that.’”
Ryoo describes the Global Fellows program as “an employability skills program—from inception to implementation.” The students are well aware that it will help their resumes no matter where they land. Sieun Choi said she “wanted to learn about American business cultures and have a meaningful work experience.” A junior SRA major at Penn State Altoona, Stephen Fisanick wants to “attend Air Force Officer Training School for cyber operations” and thought the Global Fellows experience would help. DoYeon Kim is thinking more about how her work might influence other women: “I want to be the female role model for the young women in the IT industry and attract more women into this profession.”
Of course some students acknowledged that the social aspects were a plus. They traveled to University Park, Pittsburgh, Washington, DC, and Niagara Falls. Many mentioned the friendships formed. When he was asked what he considered a highlight of the Global Fellows program, Brendon Brady, a senior SRA major, said, “when the Korean students and I had dinner after working on our proposal.” Following what has become a tradition, the Korean students visited an American student’s home, something Kyeonghu Roh really appreciated: “I was thankful to experience American culture when they invited us to their home.”
Ryoo knows the significance of the work these students were taking part in. He says, “Privacy is increasingly becoming important in cybersecurity and, therefore, is a timely topic. Learning about privacy, in theory, is beneficial but not as effective as learning in practice.” The Global Fellows of 2020 will take what they’ve learned into their classrooms and workplaces and even their personal spaces because privacy plays a role everywhere.
—Therese Boyd, ’79