Penn State Wilkes-Barre adult learner credits success to faculty, alumni network

A headshot of a person against a white background

Ryan Sorber

Credit: IBM

DALLAS, Pa.—As an adult learner who holds a full-time position with IBM, Ryan Sorber is in a different life situation than many of his classmates, but he said Penn State Wilkes-Barre’s faculty have been more than willing to work with him to help him succeed.

“The professors have been understanding of my needs as an adult student,” he said. “When I explained I was starting a full-time job, they worked with my schedule. And I’ve been able to go beyond the classroom environment in my studies and relate what I’m learning to real-life situations.”

Sorber first started at Penn State Wilkes-Barre 20 years ago but had to pause his studies halfway through his second semester due to issues with his financial aid. He later returned to pursue an associate degree in information sciences and technology, which he earned in May 2023, and he is now pursuing a bachelor of science degree in information technology, with just two semesters to go. He is employed as a cybersecurity technical specialist with IBM, based out of Allentown.

“I wanted to go back to school because I was changing paths in my career and transitioning from sales and sales leadership positions to more of a role in developing technology,” Sorber said. “Building forecasting models and working with models has always interested me, so I wanted to study those areas and advance my career.” 

In his position, Sorber supports IBM’s sales representatives on a team that works with the company’s 63 biggest clients. He communicates information about IBM product solutions to the sales representatives and meets with engineers to discuss the value of those solutions for the IBM’s clients. His position also includes travel around the country to meet with clients in places such as Georgia, California, Oregon and Texas.

“I like that I get to apply what I went back to school for, and I also appreciate the work-life balance of my job. I get to work remotely for the most part and also go into the office when I see clients,” he said. “Because I work with some large clients, it feels like what I’m doing is impactful as we implement different cybersecurity solutions at Fortune 100 companies. It feels good to help them.”

Prior to starting work with IBM, Sorber interned with Lockheed Martin as a data engineer in their space department, based out of King of Prussia. While looking for internships and full-time positions, he found the Penn State network of connections to be a valuable asset.

“I found the internship on a Penn State internal site. About 80% to 90% of the interns I worked with and about 80% of the employees I interacted with over the summer were Penn Staters,” Sorber said. “The Penn State name helped me get the internship. And the person who interviewed me for IBM was a Michigan State alum, so we had that Big Ten connection. The Penn State name is well recognized and employers know it is a well-respected school.”

Sorber said he appreciates that the instructors at Penn State Wilkes-Barre bring real-world experience to the classroom, enhancing the learning experience in addition to understanding the need for flexibility for working students.

“The teachers at the campus are really good and made my plan much more achievable for me. I’m going to school for what they have specialized in throughout their careers,” he said. “I also like the small class sizes and being able to ask my teachers questions and get them answered right away. I know that they’re available if I need help with something.”

Sorber said he hopes to be a chief innovation officer or chief technology officer at a company in the future and also sees a lot of room for professional growth at IBM.