Army Reserve captain boosts civilian career through World Campus education

October 31, 2018

Editor's note: This is the second in a series on College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) students who are currently serving or formerly served in the military, in commemoration of the University's Military Appreciation Week. 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- For Army Reserve Capt. Wade Saunders, Penn State was at the cornerstone of his transition to the next step of his civilian career.

After enlisting in the Army at 18, earning a bachelor of science degree in computer science, working in multiple sectors of industry, and then joining the Army Reserve, Saunders found himself wanting to build on his career foundation by pursuing a higher degree while maintaining his dedication to the military.

So he enrolled in the Penn State World Campus enterprise architecture program, through which he’ll earn a master’s degree online from the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST).

Since taking his first course online in the spring of 2017, Saunders has moved from Germany to California to Rhode Island. He was able to continue his studies and advance his career along the way.

“Penn State has really allowed me to continue with my military commitments without needing to pause. That’s due to the flexibility that the program has.”

-- Wade Saunders, student in IST, Penn State World Campus

“Penn State has really allowed me to continue with my military commitments without needing to pause,” he said. “That’s due to the flexibility that the program has.”

Saunders’ military service began right after high school, when he was seeking direction on where to begin his career.

“I needed some time to figure out what I really wanted to do,” he said. “The military offered that. I came out after four years extremely focused, with a good set of goals and a foundation of discipline that I didn’t have straight out of high school.”

That foundation guided him through college and his first industry jobs. Ultimately, he landed at IBM as a solutions architect.

“That’s where I got my background in system architecture, which eventually led to my decision to go into enterprise architecture,” he said. “It seemed like the next logical step for me.”

But following a change in IBM’s staffing that sent a number of jobs offshore, Saunders said he got burned out in his role as the liaison between company executives and the call centers he managed. He decided it was time for a break.

“I started thinking, ‘What do I really want to do? Where do I want to go?’” he said. “I think this naturally happens when you reach your mid-30s and 40s. You start thinking about happiness and fulfillment versus career.”

So he started thinking about the time in his life when he had felt the most joy.

“The time that came to my mind was in the military,” he said.

In October 2009, he walked into a recruiter’s office and said he wanted to join the Army Reserve.

“They must have really needed people because they took me as an older soldier,” he joked.

With his status as a service member restored, Saunders spent the early part of his Reserve career going between active duty and part-time status, which, he said, has helped him to pave his own unique path. It has also allowed him to reset his clock, and he hopes to serve until his retirement in 2035.

“I really love the military side of my life,” he said. “It’s been a great ride. All of the guys I went to basic training with are retired now. I’m in this for the long haul.”

“With this degree you can really drive business strategy, collaboration and innovation by aligning resources in order to move an organization through different types of transformation. If you’re a leader who is able to chart the way for an enterprise, that is something really special.”

-- Wade Saunders, student in IST, Penn State World Campus

As he simultaneously takes courses online through Penn State World Campus, Saunders is eager to advance his civilian career. He said that his position as a solutions architect was very technical, and the enterprise architecture degree will give him training on how to be the strategic leader of an organization. 

“With this degree you can really drive business strategy, collaboration and innovation by aligning resources in order to move an organization through different types of transformation,” he said. “If you’re a leader who is able to chart the way for an enterprise, that is something really special.”

He compared his civilian career progression with that of his years in the military.

“As you move through your career as a military officer, you go from tactical to strategic,” he said. “Becoming a strategic planner is a very normal transition for a military officer. That’s why the whole thing fits all the way around, military, civilian, professional and personal. It’s been a retooling for me.”

The military has served as more than a professional launch pad for Saunders. He met his wife in the Army, and the couple has an 18-month-old daughter. He also has a son who is following in his dad’s footsteps. A senior at the University of South Carolina, he recently signed his Army ROTC contract.

Wade Saunders family

Army Reserve Capt. Wade Saunders (center) with his family.

IMAGE: Penn State

“I think he’s looked at my career and the second chance it’s given me and has seen a lot of positive things,” said Saunders. “That’s made an impact on him. He’s a patriot and loves his country.”

“It’s something that has drawn us even closer together,” he added. “He’s been reaching out and asking questions and looking for guidance. We have that special bond. It almost feels a little like destiny.”

For Saunders, his family’s military service is a deep source of pride.

“My service always has been something I’m proud of and something I feel extremely lucky to do,” he said. “It’s an honor and a privilege to serve.”

Visit the Penn State World Campus website for information about the resources available for military and veteran students.

Editor's note: In addition to pursuing a master of professional studies in enterprise architecture, Saunders is also working toward certificates in project management, enterprise architecture, and enterprise information and security technology architecture through Penn State World Campus.

This year's Military Appreciation Week at the University kicked off with the Penn State football game on Oct. 27, and continues with other events through Nov. 12. This year's theme will recognize 100 years of women officially serving in the U.S. Armed Forces with special events and activities, including community football tailgate, library showcase, speaker events and more. For additional information, visit militaryappreciation.psu.edu

Last Updated October 31, 2018