READING, Pa. — Penn State Berks will have two student marshals for the fall 2018 commencement, Sara A. Stoyer from Orwigsburg and Steven Mack Jr. from Denver, Pennsylvania. They share a distinct honor: Each has earned an overall 4.0 GPA and will graduate with summa cum laude honors. They will speak at the college’s commencement ceremony at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 14, in the Beaver Community Center.
Stoyer, 21, who will earn a bachelor of science in accounting, enrolled in college right after high school; while Mack, 35, a senior in security and risk analysis (SRA), took advantage of the G.I. Bill to attend Penn State Berks after serving eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps, including four tours of duty in Iraq. While they took very different paths to earning their degrees, their academic success has led them both to post graduation positions — Stoyer with an Orwigsburg accounting service and Mack with the U.S. Department of Justice in Virginia.
For Stoyer, graduating from Penn State Berks is one more step in her quest to remain close to her family and hometown, and a life she cherishes, she said. Plus, her family is also a Penn State family — her father, Martin, majored in electrical engineering technology and graduated in 1995; her sister, Lillian, is a first-year student at Penn State Schuylkill, also majoring in accounting; and her uncle, John Ulmer, earned bachelor's and master’s degrees in architectural engineering (1982 and 1985).
While at Penn State Berks, Stoyer received academic recognition in the form of the President’s Freshman Award (2016), President Sparks Award (2017) and Evan Pugh Scholar Award (2018). She made the Dean’s List every semester at college.
The accounting firm Heckman and Laudeman, LLC, where Stoyer will work full-time, awarded her an internship in November 2017 and hired her as a part-time staff accountant in the spring of 2018. It is also the firm where her mother, Jennifer, works. Stoyer and her husband, Brandon, who married in September, bought a home in Orwigsburg to stay close to family and friends.
Stoyer's “eureka” accounting moment came when she took a course while a sophomore at Schuylkill Haven High School. “I love math and I had gone through most of the math classes and thought I would take an accounting course, largely because of my mother. When I graduated in 2015, I decided to go to Penn State Schuylkill. After two years, I transferred to Berks because Schuylkill did not have the major I wanted,” she recalled.
Stoyer liked that her professors at Penn State Berks challenged her. “I felt like they were just teaching me and not the entire class. They really pushed me. One of the most important things for me is that I have learned to be a better writer and communicator here," she said. "I have gained a lot of skills like time management that will help me in the future.”
Her internship at Heckman and Laudeman was enlightening. “It was good to finally be able to work for an actual business. I began as a generalist but I have been steadily progressing and taking on more responsibility,” said Stoyer, who is planning to pursue her master’s degree through the Penn State World Campus so she can take the CPA exam.
As far as achieving a 4.0 GPA, Stoyer said she really wasn’t thinking about it in the beginning. “I was not as concerned with my grades as I was in high school. Then came that moment when I started really enjoying all my college classes. From that point on I put in more work and effort and it showed in my grades.”
“My ride through high school and college, my experiences, have helped me get the most out of life so far. I want to continue living for the moment,” she added. She wants to share her good fortune in her commencement speech, titled “Enjoy Your Ride.”
Mack took a somewhat circuitous route before arriving at Penn State Berks. After graduating 11th in his class from Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia, he enrolled at LaSalle University with help from his grandfather.
“That became too much of a financial burden for both of us, so I worked for a year and then enlisted in the Marines, where I became a helicopter mechanic stationed at Camp Pendleton (California) and rose through the ranks to staff sergeant, which gave me a lot of management experience. Then I was injured (non-combat) and could not remain active, so I received a discharge and my family and I moved back to Pennsylvania,” he said.
He chose Denver in Lancaster County because of the school district and what it offered for his children. Mack then worked for two years as a quality inspector before enrolling in Penn State Berks for the spring 2016 semester. Not only was it close and convenient, but the college also offered the degree program he wanted and he could get credit for his military and previous college experience. In addition to a bachelor of science in SRA, he is also completing a minor in information sciences and technology.
“I have always been a tech person. During the 1990s, everything became about computers and I picked it up quickly," explained Mack. "I built them, and stayed interested in the technology but nothing else piqued my interest. I didn’t want to be a programmer, for example. My goal was to get involved in cyber security, using it as an umbrella to protect data. I wanted to be the conductor, not a member of the orchestra."
Mack said he believes learning comes easily to him because he is willing to put in the hard work and he found exactly what he was looking for at Penn State Berks.
“It was not so much the courses, but the professors and the way they taught," he said. "They understand veterans and they assigned a lot of group projects. What I learned expanded and complemented my previous security and management knowledge. I also love to read and write and I really enjoyed the English courses I took."
Mack added that he knows being able to communicate, especially in writing policy and security planning, is essential for his career.
Most significant for him in attending Penn State Berks were his two internships — the first at CSRA, Inc., a General Dynamics subsidiary, and the other at the Department of Justice. He credits Tricia Clark, instructor in information sciences and technology at the college.
“She helped me land the first, which gave me many government contacts and led to the second internship, which led to them offering me my post-graduate position," said Mack. "She helped get me where I want to go.”
When asked about his plans after graduation, Mack stated, “I’m thinking about going for a master’s after working a few years and then possibly teaching.”