UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Kevin Golden shares many qualities with other students in the College of Information Sciences and Technology at Penn State. He’s had a passion for tech from a young age, has a deep love for learning, and aspires to work in cybersecurity.
He also has a medical condition called spina bifida, a birth defect in which a developing baby’s spine and spinal cord don’t properly form. The condition causes Golden debilitating pain, walking and mobility problems, and other complications.
“It brings a lot of pain, which brings anxiety,” said Golden. “Sometimes it was hard to cope. It was hard to get to class and walk on campus.”
Golden, a senior studying security and risk analysis, considered withdrawing from the University because his physical limitations were preventing him from focusing in the classroom. But after one of his professors recommended that he look into continuing his education online, he decided to finish his degree through Penn State World Campus.
While Golden knew that transitioning to World Campus was the best scenario for his situation, he was still nervous about attending college solely online. Then he recognized a name on his course schedule for his first semester of online classes.
“I realized I had the same professor online that I’d had in the classroom at University Park,” he said. “It made me feel really good that not only were they physically showing up to the classroom every day, but they were taking the effort to amplify studies and help students like me [who needed to attend classes online].”
He noted that his World Campus instructors made sure that he had all of the materials he needed and would have received in the classroom at University Park, and some additional ones — including video lectures, face-to-face video chats, and real-time messaging.
“In some classes, they had scheduled lectures where everyone could show up and be on the same platform together. I thought that was really neat,” he said. “It didn’t feel any different than being in the classroom.”
While the opportunity to pursue his degree through World Campus has helped Golden stay on track for graduation, he’s also found other benefits to online education.
“For the first time, I was working in a class with people I couldn’t see and who were not generally in my age group,” he said. “Some were on the other side of the world; they had jobs and families.”
He added, “I’ve been able to work with so many different types of people. I’ve built a skill set through World Campus that allows me to more easily communicate with people.”
Finding a pathway to success
When Golden first came to Penn State, he was undecided about his major. He was thinking about computer engineering, but he was intrigued by the College of IST based on his interest in cybersecurity, which stemmed from a report he’d written on the topic in high school.
“That’s when I was drawn to the College of IST,” he said. “The thing that interested me the most is that it incorporated three things: information, people, and technology.”
It was in the College of IST that Golden was introduced to Peng Liu, the Raymond G. Tronzo, MD Professor of Cybersecurity and an esteemed researcher in many areas of computer security. Golden was inspired by Liu and pleasantly surprised that he and other revered instructors took the time to get to know their students.
“Dr. Liu is actively researching top-of-the-line defense systems,” said Golden. “He’s passionate about it. Passion drives excellence.”
Golden added, “My instructors are some of the smartest people I’ve ever talked to, and they’re willing to share so much detail with an entry-level person. Watching and observing them and how they carry themselves, not only as professionals and doctors but as people in general, has been one of the most rewarding things about being a student in the college.”
It was through these connections combined with his course work that Golden built the foundational skills to pursue a career path in cybersecurity. This fall, he is serving as a cybersecurity intern at Magnar, a security solutions firm in Audubon, New Jersey, where he looks forward to applying the knowledge he’s gained in the College of IST.
“Everyone wants to learn how to hack, and to learn information security,” said Golden. “But IST also teaches the basics of how computers talk to each other and how we talk to them. Through that, I’ve been able to gain a deeper understanding of networks, mobile technology, and information systems that set me up to learn more about security.”
Golden’s internship, combined with everything he’s learned through the College of IST — both in the classroom and online — have positioned him for a strong future. He encourages other students facing similar situations who feel stuck in a particular environment to evaluate themselves and their priorities.
“Ask yourself, ‘How can I change for the better to make that happen?’” he said. “It doesn’t have to be selfish or a big step, but it’s something you have to believe in and you have to trust yourself. Stressful changes can really make an impact on our life, but it’s up to us to make that a positive impact.”
And, he said, Penn State helped to make that possible for him.
“When I came here, I wanted to use my materials to my fullest abilities and figure out where I was going to create a path,” he said. “Luckily, Penn State helps pave that road for students.
“If you show enthusiasm, motivation, and a willingness to give it your 100%, then you’re set up to succeed at Penn State.”