Student to cap family tradition at Penn College commencement
The Weedville native’s lineage is linked to the college’s evolution from a renowned postsecondary technical institute to the second community college in Pennsylvania to its current status as a national leader in applied technology education.
Snyder’s maternal grandfather, Thomas E. Foster, earned a machinist certificate from Williamsport Technical Institute in 1962, and his father, Troy L. Snyder, attended Williamsport Area Community College in the mid-1980s, just a few years before it became Penn College, a special mission affiliate of Penn State.
“It’s just crazy that three family members have gone to school at the same place when it was known as three different names,” said Snyder, who is graduating with an associate degree in mechatronics technology. “My grandpa and dad could have gone to school anywhere in Pennsylvania, and when I found out they went here, it really blew me away.”
That discovery proved to be a piecemeal process.
College wasn’t a consideration when Snyder graduated from high school. Instead, he chose to work as a general laborer for Morgan Advanced Materials, a manufacturer of specialist products in St. Marys. Nearly two years later, the dearth of advancement opportunities outweighed the lure of a steady paycheck, so Snyder committed to upgrading his skills. A friend thought Penn College would be a good fit, and after one visit, Snyder agreed.
“I liked the fact that the classes are small and you get a personalized education,” he said. “I’m more of a hands-on learner, and they really push hands-on here, so that was a big aspect.”
When he first mentioned Penn College to his father, Snyder said neither of them realized its WACC roots. Eventually they connected the dots, although Troy Snyder barely recognized the campus during their visit.
“I hadn’t been on the college grounds since 1988, and I was awestruck,” Troy said. “The entrance off Maynard Street had been transformed from an old rundown junkyard to a pillar of beauty that the students and community could be proud of. It was just astounding to see the landscaping, the new buildings and more student housing. For me, it was breathtaking.”
Troy majored in broadcasting at WACC but admits he didn’t take his studies very seriously. He left the college after a couple semesters to work at Brockway Glass Co.
“I had trouble staying focused on my education and allowed myself to throw in the towel,” said Troy, who today is a development engineering associate at Morgan Advanced Materials. “I was more interested in having fun and being on my own away from home. I can’t help but think back on all the missed opportunities I had at WACC. Those are the opportunities I tell my son about and hope that he takes advantage of them.”
His son has. Snyder has accepted an automation project engineer position at Martz Technologies Inc., a control systems integration firm in Berwick. No doubt he impressed the employer with his perfect 4.0 GPA and initiative. Snyder took an extra class – programmable logic controls – during his final semester to enhance his career prospects.
“The class wasn’t required for his mechatronics degree,” explained Stacey C. Hampton, assistant dean of industrial and computer technologies. “He sought extra time in the PLC lab to hone his skills. He was committed to his education and made the most of the opportunities available to him.”
“Tommy was great to have in class,” added Jon W. Hart, instructor of electrical technologies/operations. “He always had a positive, fun attitude. He asked really good questions and was not afraid to speak up about something that he didn’t understand. He would make the whole class better because he would engage the topic."
Snyder majored in mechatronics because it integrates electrical, mechanical and computer engineering. Students learn how to install, calibrate, modify, troubleshoot and repair automated systems.
“I wanted to learn about the mechanical side, but also wanted to learn about the electrical side because I didn’t have any background in that. I get satisfaction from being able to fix something that’s broke,” Snyder said.
He hopes to return to Penn College one day for a bachelor’s degree in automation engineering technology so he can once again benefit from the school’s faculty expertise and labs featuring industry-standard equipment.
One of those instructional areas is particularly special to Snyder: the recently revamped machining lab in the college’s Larry A. Ward Machining Technologies Center. His grandfather spent considerable time in the same space about 60 years earlier when it was filled with manual machines rather than today’s inventory of dual-purpose computer-numerical-control mills and lathes and other high-tech items.
According to Snyder, Foster attended Williamsport Technical Institute on the G.I. Bill to become a machinist because that’s “where the jobs were.” Foster was right. After earning a machinist certificate, he became a maintenance technician at Sylvania, a lighting manufacturer in St. Marys.
In retirement, Foster lives within walking distance from the Snyder father-son duo in Weedville.
“When I told my grandpa I was going to Penn College, he told me that he went to school in Williamsport, but I didn’t ask him the name of the school. I didn’t find out right away that it was the same place I was going,” Snyder said. “One day I was talking to my dad about it, and he remembered that WACC used to be WTI. So I asked my grandpa the name of his school, and he told me it was WTI.”
Snyder described the revelation as “mind-blowing."
Foster doesn’t travel, so he hasn’t seen his alma mater’s dramatic transformation.
“But he knows it costs a lot more now than it did when he attended,” Snyder laughed. “He’s very proud that I attended the same school.”
Snyder’s father shares that sentiment.
“I feel very proud that Thomas made a decision to further his education at the same institution both his grandfather and father attended,” Troy said. “I know when Thomas graduates, he will feel honor and pride as he tells the world, ‘I’m a Penn College graduate.’”
A few years ago, Snyder couldn’t imagine making such a declaration.
“In high school, I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t need college,’” he said. “My perspective has changed. The trades are running out of people, and you can get good-paying jobs in the trades. I would definitely encourage my future family members to come to Penn College.”
And manufacture a new chapter in the story of the Snyders.
For information on Penn College’s degrees in mechatronics, manufacturing and other majors offered by the School of Engineering Technologies, call 570-327-4520.
Penn College is a national leader in applied technology education. Email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.