Sometimes life's best lessons are learned from failure. For Sarah Leinenbach of Franklinville, a failed programming class her first semester at college and working briefly in retail at a dollar store proved to be a valuable experience.
"I liked working and making money better than going to a class I wasn't doing well in," admitted Leinenbach. "Fortunately, I learned the short term versus long term lesson quick— that retaking the class and having a career was better for my future than working an entry-level job."
Leinenbach's decision to work harder in college and study computer science proved to be a life altering choice. Today, the Rowan College at Gloucester County (RCGC) alumna is working full time at Lockheed Martin in Moorestown as an associate member of the engineering staff in the radar modeling and simulation group. When Dr. Brenden Rickards, RCGC's dean of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Division approached Leinenbach about a part-time, paid internship in June 2015, she was unfamiliar with the name of the global aerospace, defense, security and advanced technologies company but welcomed the experience and the money.
"That internship changed my life," said Leinenbach, who was struggling with a financially dire family situation and balancing the cost of college. "The part-time internship at Lockheed Martin, along with working 10 hours a week for RCGC's athletic department, helped to pay the bills."
Leinenbach is the only person in her immediate family to earn a four-year degree, and she did it while accumulating less than $10,000 of debt. After the NJ STAR graduated from RCGC with honors, she transferred to Wilmington University for a bachelor's degree in Software Development and Design. Thanks to a partnership agreement between the two institutions, she was able to keep college costs down by taking Wilmington courses online and in the evening on the RCGC campus, allowing her to continue the internship and work 25-hours a week.
A problem-solver since childhood, physics and high-level math have never been difficult for Leinenbach. In fact, solving technical problems seems to be in her DNA; her mother works in the healthcare industry and her father is a carpenter. Growing up, she and a cousin were always tinkering with something, like building forts with electricity, running water and a portable television and radio.
"I like looking at a problem and figuring out how to solve it, which makes me a good engineer," said Leinenbach. "At first, I was thinking about web development but started leaning towards engineering because of the internship. I have learned so much working at Lockheed Martin during the last two years."
As a student at Delsea Regional High School, Leinenbach took networking, programming and web development classes. Although she eventually decided to focus her studies on engineering rather than web development, her experience proved to be beneficial helping her to secure a job working for RCGC's Athletic Department keeping their website up-to-date.
"I am really happy for Sarah and see her having a wonderful career. She was an excellent employee for us while she was a student at RCGC and continued with us while she finished her degree at Wilmington," stated Executive Director of Athletics Brian Rowan. "She really enhanced what we were able to do via our athletic website and social media, which helped to promote our program on a national level."
Leinenbach fondly recalls her time at RCGC and credits the decision to pursue a degree with helping her to mature. While it was a difficult time in her life — living with her father after her parents had separated, running the household and handling the bills, learning to navigate financial aid and all of the other responsibilities that come with attending college, and at times, even the stress of possibly losing her home — Leinenbach emerged victorious.
"Everyone at RCGC was helpful and wanted you to succeed," said Leinenbach. "Now I want to be an advocate and help other students who might not come from great backgrounds get STEM degrees so that they can support themselves and make a better life. It was my goal to get a degree, then a job— and it worked."
"Sarah is a perfect example of how hard work and diligence to your studies can pay off in the long run," said Rickards. "When we became aware of the Lockheed Martin internship program, she was the first student in the STEM division we thought of asking. Her commitment to her studies and drive to succeed were exactly the type of dedication that Lockheed Martin was looking for and we knew that she would be a perfect fit for their program. We are truly proud to call her one of our own."
To learn more about the College's STEM programs and the many opportunities available, visit
Rowan College at Gloucester County's 250-acre campus is located on Tanyard Road in Deptford, just off Exit 56 of Route 55.