Strong community support drives success for IST student marshal

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When James Reese represents the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) as student marshal at the summer commencement ceremony this month, it will be, in part, thanks to members of the IST community who believed in him.

As an individual with autism, Reese faced unique challenges in high school that led him to drop out after 10th grade. But a native central Pennsylvanian who has bled blue and white his entire life, Reese had his sights set on one day attending Penn State and being the first in his family to attend college.

That dream came true thanks to Reese’s drive to earn a GED and through multiple scholarships in the College of IST — including the Pillion Scholarship; the Frymoyer Honors Scholarship; the Copeland Family Scholarship; and the Gary and Annie Cesnik Scholarship. While the scholarship benefactors’ generosity made it possible for Reese to attend Penn State, the esteem support they unknowingly provided was equally critical to Reese, who viewed his status as a high school dropout as a mark of failure.

“Throughout my time at Penn State I really struggled with a lot of confidence issues; I didn’t believe in myself,” said Reese. “So knowing that there were people out there that believed in me, that really made a difference. Scholarship donors believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself, and that enabled me to finally believe in myself.”

That support followed Reese throughout his program, helping him to strengthen his network and academic achievements. He is currently completing a network engineering internship with his dream company, Cisco Systems, in Research Triangle Park near Raleigh, North Carolina. He will graduate summa cum laude, after being named to the dean’s list every semester, and continue working with Cisco after earning his bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity analytics and operations on Aug. 13.

Being named student marshal is an honor that Reese said words cannot describe.

“It fills me with an immense sense of pride to know that I will be representing the College of IST — an institution that not only reflects academic excellence, but also shapes the bright minds of today for the challenges of tomorrow,” he said. “I am overjoyed knowing that I had the chance to be part of such an amazing and supportive community.”

At Penn State, Reese has been involved with the Security and Risk Analysis (SRA) Club; the College of IST honor society, Gamma Tau Phi; and the Cyber ​​Certifications Club. He earned the President’s Freshman Award; the President Sparks Award; and the Evan Pugh Scholar Award as a junior and senior. He also received the University’s Gallagher Newcom Trustee Scholarship; the Undergraduate Scholarship for Talented Students; the David R. Martino Memorial Scholarship; the Bobbi Coulter Rich Scholarship; and the Osher Re-entry Scholarship.

The strong community support Reese received at Penn State pushed him forward. It helped him to regain his self-confidence and motivated him to work hard in pursuit of his degree.

“Attending Penn State helped me to redeem myself in my eyes,” said Reese. “I proved to myself that I can finish something; I can achieve it if I set my mind to it. And knowing that I have a sense of fulfillment because for the longest time the fact that I dropped out of school weighed on me. Graduating from Penn State gives me a sense of fulfillment and completion.”

As he embarks on his career, Reese aspires to one day pay the support he received forward to help future Penn State students.

“There are so many talented, bright young minds out there that might not be able to blossom into their full selves without support,” he said. “Just seeing what I could achieve with the support I received makes me know that there are a lot of other people out there in the same position that could do just as much if not more if they had similar support. It’s important to give back and help give people who have the skills and ambition a solid way to get from point A to point B.”

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