February 14, 2019

An Underdog Story

Josh Sonntag '14

“Bloomsburg took a chance on me,” says Josh Sonntag ’14, “And it was very important to me that I could give back. I knew right after I graduated; I told myself once I was able to that I wanted to give back to the school.”

By his own admission, Sonntag didn’t have a lot of confidence in his abilities when he came out of high school. “I was a pretty poor student,” he remembers. “I would rather have been spending time playing video games and sports than studying.” As graduation approached, he had only been accepted by one college, Bloomsburg. 

He doesn’t mince words when he looks back. “I went into Bloomsburg with the mentality that I was there because it was the only place I was accepted. That this was the only school that accepted me because I didn’t do that great, so Bloomsburg must not be that great.” 

Now, Sonntag would be the first to admit that he could not have been more wrong. Nearly five years later, he is living proof that time, effort, and guidance from dedicated faculty can have an enormous impact on the course of someone’s life. He is now the first geospatial engineer at Comcast’s Enterprise Business Intelligence organization in Philadelphia.

Throughout high school, Josh always had an interest in computer science. His grades prevented him from being accepted outright into BU’s computer science major. Before he could declare a major, he would have to prove that he could handle the demands of college through a summer program. It didn’t take long for him to prove to himself that he was up to the task, “I realized quickly that I wasn’t there because I should have been there, but because I had chosen to be there.” During the summer program he began to develop an interest in geography and the environment. As soon as he was able to, Sonntag declared his major in Environmental, Geographical and Geological Sciences (EGGS). 

Thanks to Jennifer Haney, assistant professor, Sonntag was introduced to Geographical Information Systems (GIS), a discipline that offered the “perfect blend” of computer and geographical sciences. His niche found, he never looked back. 

For his final semester at BU, Sonntag secured an internship with the Columbia County GIS, an experience he credits with launching his career. Since graduating, his experiences at BU have continued to pay dividends.

Through everything, Sonntag maintains that none of these opportunities would have been possible without the extraordinary mentorship provided by his professors at BU, especially Haney, Sandra Kehoe-Forutan, and his adviser, John Hintz.

“The EGGS department taught me that I could succeed and have a great career in that field ... My confidence was growing every day. The professors were great. I felt that everything they did for their students was personal. They wanted to make sure that we were successful.”

This incredible hands-on and deeply personal experience, along with the memory of his own inauspicious start to his college career inspired Sonntag to give back. In July 2018, Sonntag made a planned gift to Bloomsburg University to endow a scholarship. In addition, he has pledged an annual gift to activate the scholarship and support a student who can immediately benefit from some similar opportunities. 

In hindsight, Sonntag can’t believe that his initial attitude towards the university was so misguided. And he doesn’t feel that way simply because he believes that he received a first-rate education; what matters most to him is the way BU helped him grow as a person. “I learned how to be a better person” Sonntag says, “Yes, it put me well above the standard for my career ... but it was really preparing me to do well in life.” 

It’s that experience that he hopes he can help duplicate for someone else. Perhaps someone not unlike himself.

“I want to support people who I see myself in,” he says, “I like the underdog story, and I want other students to know that just because it’s a smaller school doesn’t mean they are not getting a top-tier education.”

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