Home Campus Directory | A-Z Index
Students working in the computer lab.

Recommended Academic Plan

IST's Unique Role in the Information Technology Field

Maybe IST is best explained by understanding what it's not.  Students and parents often ask, "How does IST differ from computer science or computer engineering, or management information systems (MIS) degrees?"

Here is the difference.

In computer science, the focus is on building computing operating system, software drivers and utilities. For IST students, they understand software to be able to apply them as tools to build information systems.  In computer engineering, they build computer hardware devices.  IST students have experience with hardware and use them to assemble data infrastructures.  In MIS, students are exposed to typical business applications.  IST students expand IST traditional business processes to invent new, more effective way of doing business. Penn State IST students get a broad information technology foundation, and solve organization problems by optimizing all aspects of an information system: computers, software, networks, data, processes and users. Upon graduation, they have the problem-solving knowledge and technical skills required to be a leader anywhere in the digital, global economy -- from the board room to the computer room, from government to Fortune 100 firms.


The IST program is designed to build leaders, not just programmers or technicians. The reason? Penn State created a program that builds leaders for the digital age. Corporate experts have advised us to build a program that not only helps graduates become technologically skilled, but also able to understand how technology can make a difference in business, government, social services, education, and more. Our graduates: 1) understand programming tools and databases, 2) implement computer hardware and networks, and 3) re-engineer business processes, but more than that, they know how information technology impacts any kind of organization, and they are on the fast track to be a leader in that organization.

Shielded From Overseas Outsourcing.

Unlike technical schools that narrowly focus on certification testing or heads-down computer programming, Penn State's IST degree is attractive to employers regardless of the current trend of IT jobs moving overseas. Why? IST-educated graduates know how to solve information-related problems to improve and streamline business processes. They have acquired "soft" skills not easily exported; like: 1) requirements gathering, 2) systems analysis, 3) business process redesign, and 4) polished written and oral proficiency. This broad and deep set of competencies strengthens your ability to remain a valuable asset to a business and quickens the path for upward mobility and broader responsibilities.

IST's Students: Meet the Future of Information Technology

  • Our students. . .
  • . . . understand information technology as a solution. The foundation of an IST student's education is an in-depth knowledge of current and emerging information technologies. The true key, however, is that this education goes beyond the science and engineering of IT to examine what technology can do to solve problems across all sectors of our economy and society.
  • . . . learn how to bridge technology and the user. The goal of an IST education is to develop individuals who both understand the information needs of individuals and organizations and how computers and software applications can meet those needs.
  • . . . are skilled in expressing and defending ideas. IST students begin cultivating their communications skills from the get-go. They learn to get their points across in many ways -- orally, in writing, and with the power of technology. They also develop the skill and confidence to do it one-on-one or in large, group presentations.
  • . . . know how to work as team players and team leaders. IST students are part of problem-solving teams from their first semester in the program. They understand the dynamics of working with others, and how to capitalize on diversity and individual strengths to achieve a common goal.
  • . . . learn to deal with the real problems of the digital economy. Not only have all IST graduates had at least one professional, hands-on internship, their learning is largely problem-based. They know how to analyze a problem, they find the resources to do the job, and they get the job done.

Associate Degree (2IST) Career Opportunities

As the US economy accelerates its recovery, career opportunities in IST will grow at a fast pace. Job openings are happening, pay is attractive and advancement can be rapid. Graduates with an IST associate degree are competitive for positions in a wide variety of areas and locations, including small, local companies expanding the functionality of their LANs (Local Area Networks), medium size firms increasing their use of e-commerce, and government offices striving to improve customer service with enhanced automation systems.

According to latest government predictions: "Two of the fastest growing detailed occupations are in the computer specialist occupational group. Network systems and data communications analysts are projected to be the second-fastest-growing occupation in the economy. Demand for these workers will increase as organizations continue to upgrade their information technology capacity and incorporate the newest technologies. The growing reliance on wireless networks will result in a need for more network systems and data communications analysts as well. Computer applications software engineers also are expected to grow rapidly from 2008 to 2018. Expanding Internet technologies have spurred demand for these workers, who can develop Internet, intranet, and Web applications." (Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics)


Example job titles are:

  • Help Desk Analyst
  • Network Support Analyst
  • Micro/PC Analyst
  • Systems Analyst
  • Business Systems Analyst
  • Network/Systems Administrator
  • Quality Assurance Analyst
  • PC/Software Test Technician
  • Data Center Technician
  • Field Technician
  • IT Business Analyst

As an example, in July 2011 on a popular IT job search web site, there are 450+ IT jobs in the greater Pittsburgh area. More than 100 jobs are open even if you narrow down the results to those most applicable for IST associate degree graduates.  Bottom line: Plenty of high paying jobs are waiting to be filled by IST graduates without leaving southwestern Pennsylvania.