From Silicon Valley to Penn Engineering Online
Marina Wolters Rihani always had a passion for math and science but pursued a business career in Silicon Valley instead. Here, she talks about her decision to pivot back to technology—and how she chose to attend Penn’s MCIT Online degree program.
I grew up in Russia in a family that was deeply into engineering. I loved solving difficult math problems, and I was leaning toward a career in math and sciences. However, when I was graduating from high school, everything changed in my country. The industries that had been strong in the Soviet Union got flipped on their heads, and science and engineering didn’t seem like a good idea anymore.
So I decided to go into economics. I was the first person in my family to study business! My first job out of college was at a tech company, and I knew right away that tech was my industry. I created a startup in Moscow, sold it and then moved to the United States to continue my education.
My work in Silicon Valley has been mostly in the fintech sector, helping companies build customer-centric products and helping big banks to think about how Silicon Valley develops products in a more fair and transparent way. I also worked for a data-generation startup, where we developed sensors to help big international companies track their supply chain.
That job made me realize that I had a passion to learn more about technology. I worked very closely with engineers, and I wanted to understand the technology on a deeper level. That, combined with living in the Valley, eventually convinced me that I should go back to school and get my engineering degree.
Penn was my first choice. I’ve been living in the Silicon Valley bubble for eight years, so I was ready to experience more diversity. I strongly believe that to be a well-rounded person, you need to be exposed to different viewpoints, and Penn’s MCIT Online program has students from all walks of life. They live in different countries, speak different languages and come from different backgrounds, including doctors, teachers and everything in between.
I started the program in spring 2021, and the experience has surpassed my expectations. The school does such a good job of connecting students through Slack channels and class projects, so I’ve made some very close friends in the program. That’s important, because it’s hard work, and to be able to lean on your peers at stressful moments is critical. It’s a journey, and we’re getting through it together.
I just went through a recruiting season for internships, and I can already see that the Penn name will be a big help in my career. Even apart from the fact that it’s a highly recognizable brand, Penn has a very healthy alumni network, and I know that the vast majority of those alumni are willing to help other alumni make connections and find opportunities.Attending an East Coast program from the West Coast hasn’t been a problem for me at all. The vast majority of the classes are very well adjusted for students on both coasts, and professors and peers are completely mindful of different time zones. For me personally, MCIT Online is the best of both worlds. I love living in California, and at the same time I’m getting a high-quality education from a great school.