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Penn State alumna Baroness Joanna Shields shares story with students

Alumna Baroness Joanna Shields came back to Penn State to talk to students about her experiences, from growing up in St. Marys to becoming the U.K.’s minister for Internet Safety and Security.
Alumna Baroness Joanna Shields came back to Penn State to talk to students about her experiences, from growing up in St. Marys to becoming the U.K.’s minister for Internet Safety and Security. Photo provided

We are living through the biggest social experiment in human history, according to 1984 Penn State graduate Baroness Joanna Shields. Shields took center stage Monday night at Penn State’s HUB-Robeson Center to talk about her life and how technology is challenging sociopolitical systems and security.

Born in St. Marys, she graduated from Penn State with a bachelor’s degree in public service. In 1987, she received an MBA from George Washington University and received in 2015 an honorary doctorate in public service from the same institution.

“Changes facilitated by technology ... are influencing our ideas, our opinions and redefining who we are,” Shields said. “There are unexpected consequences that challenge our very humanity and that require us to ask difficult questions.”

As an example, she asked, “When it comes to people’s personal information, what is the new duty of care?”

Shields is the U.K. minister for Internet Safety and Security, and has previously worked under former Prime Minister David Cameron to launch government initiatives promoting the U.K. as the technological hub of Europe and combating child sex abuse. Her most recent initiative, WePROTECT, is a global alliance to stop the crime of online child sex abuse and exploitation.

“We must leverage the power of technology to rescue victims, and bring perpetrators to justice,” she said.

WePROTECT counts on the support of more than 70 governments, tech companies and NGOs. “We are making progress, but we will never stop until every child can use the internet without fear,” Shields said.

In 2014, Shields was appointed an officer of the Order of the British Empire and named a Life Peer in the House of Lords by Cameron.

During her talk, Shields marveled at the fact that more than 3 billion people are already on the internet.

“That’s a remarkable achievement and it represents incredible opportunities for all of us. Our lives are without a doubt easier, more convenient and more efficient.”

She has worked for various Silicon Valley technology firms, including AOL, Google and Facebook. As vice president and managing director of Facebook in Europe, Middle East and Africa, Shields saw the company expand to more than one billion users.

“I love change, which is why I think I was drawn to the technology industry,” Shields said. “I love to be chasing the next new thing. But right now, the exponential pace of change and the implications have left me, even someone like me who is addicted to change feel somewhat uneasy.”

During her visit, Shields will be receiving Penn State Alumni Association’s Alumni Fellow award and will be one of the College of the Liberal Arts alumnae participating in Penn State Women: Leaders of Today and Tomorrow.

“I’m proud to be, I think, the only person in the world who has the job of Minister for Internet Safety and Security,” said Shields, “and I think every government should have a Minister for Internet Safety and Security.”

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