After a lifetime of fighting her genetics, Shannon Gelson ’08 is going to law school and following in her lawyer mother and judge father’s footsteps. Although she doesn’t plan to go to court after graduation, she plans to use her degree to further her work in data privacy and ethics--what she refers to as her “hybrid” career model.
The Panther alumna took time to speak with our Alumni Relations Office to share how she utilizes her interests and neurodiversity to find her niche, despite being a C-student at Ranney.
Tell us about your career in data privacy and ethics.
I recently left my position as a Data Ethics Technologist in order to pursue a law degree full time. However, in that role, I worked with product teams to develop products specifically designed to solve privacy problems.
Prior to my role in data privacy and ethics, I was the sixth hire at a Philadelphia-based data technology start-up as an entry-level employee who recognized a major data problem and eventually solved it. I worked my way up in the company, and in fact, helped facilitate the company’s acquisition by my former employer in 2016. Suddenly, I went from a fast riser at a small company to a large company with a staff of people who resembled my friends at Ranney--all graduates from Stanford, Berkeley, and top programs and universities.
Why are you going to law school?
While my focus is mostly privacy--I am a certified privacy professional--my evolving field is any type of technology that has the ability to or the intention to cause harm to individuals. It’s the ethical use of technology and creating laws and regulations around that.
I’ve been working really hard on a concept called “privacy by design.” We do a lot of lobbying in Washington, D.C. and I did a lot of work on the “Fair and Open Use Act” which didn’t get to the floor (but the federal privacy bill did). In working on these acts, I realized that I would need to be a lawyer if these get passed.
If Ranney taught me anything, it’s to set the bar high for yourself. After I earn my degree, I look forward to pursuing other projects that fascinate me (like the El Salvador declaration of Bitcoin as its currency to assess how the regulations will impact venture opportunity).
How has your neurodiversity helped you in your career path?
I’ve noticed I’ve had a knack for interpreting laws for technology and, more importantly, recognizing where the gap is today. Lawyers can’t just tell engineers and technology what to do, because, to quote the GDPR, “the rate by which technology is advancing far exceeds the rate by which laws can govern it.” Since my brain works so fast and is so scattered, it can actually connect the dots in my scattered universe quicker than others.
I have to thank Ranney for helping me find my interest (and apologize for the many disciplinary notices, among other things). Though I didn’t have many hobbies as a student, my friends and I were really into Mac computers. I remember spending time in the Library searching for articles on Apple releasing the first intel processing chip in its Mac computers. My friends and I always were on our laptops at school (and this wasn’t the cool thing to do in 2004 through 2007). Before the campus had Wifi, we were creating our own Bonjour networks (mini Intranets) and chat with one another around campus. Looking back, I can honestly say this was a transformative time in my life. Ranney embraced every student for all of their quirks, and, as strict as Ranney was, the faculty really let us be us. If it wasn’t for Dr. Delgado, I wouldn’t have had any real avenues to explore my interest in technology.
How did this differ from what you left Ranney to do?
I have record-breaking ADHD (although I wasn’t diagnosed until college). I was regularly in trouble, getting kicked out of classes, and requiring extra time on tests. I knew I wasn’t going to go to an Ivy league or accredited school like my peers. Instead, I went to St. Joseph’s University--thanks to Mr. Materasso for helping me make that decision--for marketing and sales management. St. Joseph wasn’t a top or ranked school, but I wasn’t a top or ranked student at Ranney.
I chose a marketing major in my undergraduate because it seemed like career options were limited to program titles. Coming out of Ranney, I knew what business was, but if you don’t like math or science, you don’t really know what other paths you had. I really wish I was aware of more fields back then, and more importantly, hybrid fields.
After college, I worked in sales and recruiting roles but really didn’t feel like I had found my niche. Although I wasn’t the best student, I decided to go back to school to get an MBA and buy some time to figure out my career. I attended Temple University to earn a hybrid Master’s in financial ventures in their business school as well as engineering and innovation management in their engineering school. I learned how to go from an idea to an actual invoiceable product.
What is your advice for current Ranney students and/or recent Ranney graduates?
There are a lot more career paths and fields than what you see or hear about, and you’re probably behaving in a way now that speaks to those fields. It’s just a matter of finding them.
To current Ranney students, I encourage you to think twice about the topics you find organically interesting. Speak up, find an advisor or someone with similar interests to help cultivate your curiosity. All the things I do today in my career I was doing an immature version at Ranney, I just wasn’t aware of it.
To recent Ranney graduates, I implore you to choose a company that you want to be a part of--don’t choose a job based on the salary, especially when moving into a new domain or your first domain. Once you find the company that fits your ideals, make sure your head is on a swivel. Look around for problems to solve. Once you find one, solve it (if you found it, you probably have the skills to solve it). Then, do it again. And again.
Shannon Gelson earned a Bachelor of Businesses Administration, Marketing from Saint Joseph’s University and a Master’s Degree in Technology Innovation Management & Entrepreneurship from Temple University.. She and her husband live in Pennsylvania on a 7-acre farm with their three horses. Photo by Carly Landolt.