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Finding Her Natural Place, Beyond Boundaries

Brianna Sorber in graduation gown sitting in cylindrical sculpture

When Brianna Sorber was applying to college, she cast a wide geographic net. University of California-Davis, the University of Florida, George Mason University and Ohio State University were all on the list for the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, native, who moved to the Lake Norman area with her family in 2008 for her father’s job with NASCAR.

Sorber was accepted to every university where she applied, but in the end, NC State was the right choice financially.

“I couldn’t rationalize going out of state and having one year of college debt be the equivalent of all four years at NC State, with my Pack Promise package,” she said.

Pack Promise is a program aimed at making college more accessible for North Carolina residents from low-income backgrounds. The program ensures those who qualify will receive financial aid packages that meet 100% of their demonstrated need, which helps keep top talent in state. Aid packages include a combination of scholarships and grants, work-study and loans of up to $3,500 per year.

“It was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down,” Sorber said of receiving the Pack Promise package along with her acceptance letter. “It’s been life-changing.”

She will became the first in her family to graduate from college when she received her zoology degree in May 2019. Her younger sister soon will be following in her footsteps, and Sorber has encouraged her to seek out programs similar to Pack Promise – and to take full advantage of the opportunities college offers.

Support from Pack Promise allowed Sorber the time to participate in TRIO programs – which help students overcome class, social and cultural barriers to education – and to serve as president of Zoology Club at NC State, as well as to spread the word about campus resources such as the Feed the Pack food pantry. Additionally, she  pursued an internship at the Living Conservatory at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh, where she worked at the butterfly exhibit, aids visitors, and helps clean and feed turtles and the museum’s sloth.

“Thanks to Pack Promise, I had the money to pay my tuition and live on campus or off. I had a work-study job in the Biodiversity lab at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, which allowed me to buy groceries. Without the program, I would’ve been more stressed and stretched, and I wouldn’t have been able to help other people in the same situation,” she said. “I think that’s definitely important – talking to students about this stuff, spreading awareness that people in these situations exist on campus. It’s not only people whose families can afford to pay.”

Pack Promise also helped Sorber, who was a finalist for the Gilman Scholarship, fund a semesterlong study abroad experience at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. She took a full course load, including classes in marine biology and animal diversity, and did a marine field research project studying snails. She traveled to Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef. “I threw myself into working with Australian people and learning how life there can be different from life here,” she said.

As she began planning her next steps, Sorber again started thinking beyond state lines. For entry-level positions in conservation education-related fields, her options were primarily internships and temporary seasonal work. She applied everywhere from coastal aquariums to the Disney Parks Animal Program and accepted a full-time position at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas, running from July through November.

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And then there’s the matter of GRE preparation. Sorber plans to work for a year or so before pursuing her master’s degree. This time, though, she has a single place in mind.

“I’d probably come back to NC State since I’ve fallen in love with it so much,” she said.

Sorber credits TRIO and Pack Promise with helping her view graduate education as an option.

“They have a huge hand in everything that helps low-income students on campus,” she said. “Pack Promise allows students not to worry about what they’d probably worry about the most while they’re here. That’s the main thing, and that’s huge in the life of a student.”

This story is part of an ongoing series about extraordinary opportunity at NC State. Learn more about how we’re working to empower more students from every family background and economic situation to earn an NC State degree.