Without the support and guidance he received as a student at Penn State Altoona, Steven Snowden says he has no idea where he would be today.
By: Marissa Carney
Sometimes we make choices on a whim or because we have little to lose. Sometimes those types of decisions have minimal impact on us, but sometimes they alter the course of our lives in the best way.
For Steven Snowden, it was a simple conversation with a friend that led to a choice that brought him to the success he enjoys today.
Snowden and his four younger siblings grew up with an abusive father. During his very first week at Penn State Altoona, as he was working a shift at Port-Sky Café, Snowden’s father attacked his mother, and she suffered significant brain damage. It was uncertain how long she would be in the hospital or how well she would recover. His father was convicted on attempted homicide charges.
“That was a really traumatic experience for all of us. My siblings and I had to move in with our grandparents. Praise God they were there to take care of us, but they're a bit old school. They thought I needed to drop out of college and get a job to support my family."
Though it wasn’t something he wanted to do, it was something Snowden had to seriously consider. He felt a sense of responsibility to his mother and his siblings to protect and provide for them. Could he even afford to stay enrolled anyway? Finances were already precarious, and now his mother couldn’t co-sign on any loans. He didn’t know the first thing about grants or scholarships. “I literally went to Penn State Altoona’s financial aid office every single day, desperate to find a way of making it work. The staff were amazing. They got me the aid I needed, scholarships, and subsidized loans. Everything was expedited for me, and I was able to stay in school.”
Even so, Snowden was suffering. It was a tough time for him emotionally. He felt isolated by not living on campus or being a part of a group or organization, and he wasn’t sure about his career path.
As he muddled through, trying to find his footing, one of his friends mentioned that he had joined Sheetz Fellows and was enjoying the opportunities the program offered. With nothing to lose, Snowden decided to give it a try.
The Sheetz Fellows program was established in 2009 as part of a historic gift to Penn State Altoona by Steve and Nancy Sheetz. Students from any major are prepared to be leaders by exposure to real-world projects through servant leadership activities. They are challenged to undertake a rigorous academic load while also taking advantage of experiential education opportunities through study abroad, internships, and professional development activities.
One requirement to be a Fellow is that a student must minor in entrepreneurship. Snowden still remembers his first class on the subject. “The instructor was talking about leadership and creating businesses, and I thought, ‘man, this is actually really cool.’ Then I attended a conference with all these incredible speakers. I came home from that so fired up and excited about the path I was on.”
Over the next few years, things began to turn around for Snowden. He benefited greatly from interacting and connecting with others—not just his peers and instructors but local entrepreneurs and business owners. He began to break out of his shell socially and emotionally. He started dating a young woman named Katie. He completed his summer internship at Northwestern Mutual in Pittsburgh, where he ranked first out of 86 interns in performance. In his senior year, he was paired with Steve Sheetz for one-on-one mentoring, an opportunity Snowden describes as incredible and inspiring.
“There was all this momentum that just started to snowball for me. These people absolutely changed the course of my life. They gave me the ability to look people in the eye. They made me believe in myself and be confident in who I am. Had I not been surrounded by these wonderful, motivating people, I honestly don't know where I would've been. I don't know if I would've made it through.”
Snowden graduated in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in business marketing and management. That summer, through Katie’s father, he connected with a man named Michael Wall, an Altoona native and the founder and CEO of Wall Private Wealth in Palm Beach, Florida. Snowden was hired as an investment adviser representative for the company. In the months before moving, he married Katie and worked as many shifts as possible at Chili’s. “I saved as much money as I could because the job is commission-based. I didn’t make any money for my first six months. And then within the next eight months, I was in the top ten percentile nationally of all financial advisers income-wise.”
Steve Snowden with mentor Steve Sheetz (center) and boss Michael Wall (right) at the Sheetz Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence.
Credit: Penn State
Nearly two years into the job, Snowden says he loves what he does and finds a lot of purpose in it. He enjoys working with high-net-worth families and high-income earners, helping them protect, grow, and reduce taxes on their wealth. And while he feels accomplished, there are many things he wants to improve upon. He’s always looking to others who can teach him, push him, and help him become his best self.
“My outlook on success has completely changed through my job. I’ve gone from someone who just wanted to be wealthy to being someone who wants to lift others up. I want to give them purpose and motivate them.”
This is all a far cry from where Snowden was that first week of college back in 2017. Without Penn State Altoona, without the decision to join the Sheetz Fellows, he knows things could have easily gone a completely different way for him—one that might not have turned out so positively. And even though he can acknowledge and celebrate his own grit and determination, he knows he had a lot of help along the way.
“There's no such thing as ‘self-made.’ You have people along the way who pick you up and guide you, and that's exactly what happened to me. It’s all humbled me. I know my siblings are watching me, and I want to be an example for them and for any student at Penn State Altoona. I want to show them that regardless of the situation you come from, regardless of what your family looks like or what they did, you can break generational curses and create a successful life for yourself, whatever that means to you.”