First-generation engineering student finds diverse opportunities

Miranda Buckheit
November 06, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When Carlos Antoine Norman Jr., a first-generation college student, was looking at universities, a West Allegheny high school teacher’s recommendation led him to Penn State.

Norman began exploring the Penn State majors and was torn between two of his interest areas: business and engineering. With an interest in finance, Norman also knew he liked the solution-based education approach of engineering. 

Man in a white long sleeve shirt and blue jeans sits on a table next to a computer with the Penn State logo on the screen.

Carlos Antoine Norman Jr.

IMAGE: Carlos Antoine Norman Jr.

Then he learned about industrial engineering: a practical major that could allow Norman to use engineering applications to impact the business world.

“I was sold when I learned that Penn State’s industrial engineering program was the first of its kind,” Norman said. “I accepted my admission to Penn State before visiting the campus, which is probably not the way most people do it.” 

Norman said that when he arrived for his first semester in fall 2017, the size of the University Park campus was a culture shock. Over time, he learned to navigate the vast campus, and, along the way, he found a home with his peers, the faculty and the organizations.

Finding his fit

With little guidance his freshman year, Norman began seeking organizations that could show him the ropes of being a college student.

“I wasn’t too sure of the rigor of engineering when I arrived, so I joined the Multicultural Engineering Program Orientation, or MEPO, to get acquainted,” Norman said.

MEPO is a three-day introduction to the College of Engineering, the Center for Engineering Outreach and Inclusion, and Penn State. The program connects first-year engineering students with other incoming first-year students, as well as current undergraduate engineering students who serve as mentors.

Norman said that MEPO helped him develop more critical thinking skills and that he received valuable guidance from a senior industrial engineering major who served as his MEPO mentor. 

“I also got the chance to network with recruiters before starting classes, which was great because it really taught me to be confident in myself,” Norman said.

Norman has now been serving as a MEPO mentor for three years. He said that he finds joy in helping his mentees grow professionally, and he enjoys hearing their success stories.

“I want to help impact lives and have a ripple effect by uplifting others as I climb,” Norman said. “I tell my mentees that you have to stay genuine to who you are and what you value, as well as remember your ‘why.’ You’ll face adversity in college, and you’ll probably feel overwhelmed and alone, but you have to remember that vulnerability isn’t weakness; it’s a sign of strength. You have to be willing to open up to others about your challenges so you can grow.” 

Early on, despite the introductions Norman made during MEPO, he felt very overwhelmed as a first-generation college student.

“I had little direction for school,” Norman said. “I even considered dropping out until I found BLUEprint. I wouldn’t still be here if I didn’t build that network and get involved.”

BLUEprint is a peer mentoring program focused on offering cultural, social and academic support to students of color, specifically those who are first-year or transfer or change-of-campus students.

Norman also found solace in serving as an ambassador for the Paul Robeson Cultural Center, which aims to foster appreciation and celebration of underrepresented communities and their experiences through programs and support services.

Norman said that by working with the center he has learned more about his social identity and gained cultural confidence.

“I’ve been able to interact more with people across the University and that’s given me a better grasp of other cultures,” Norman said.

Through the center, Norman became a program assistant for academic and cultural programs for first-year STEM majors. Norman gives academic advice, as well as guidance on how to succeed outside of the classroom for people from underrepresented groups. 

“Ultimately, it helps them feel like they belong even though they are at a predominately white institution,” Norman said. “There are a lot of diverse organizations across campus, but a lot of students don’t know about these opportunities. If I hadn’t done MEPO, I wouldn’t have learned about the cultural center or become as much of a well-rounded person as I am now. We, as an institution, need to make sure all students know about our multicultural groups to be more united.” 

Making strides for his future

In addition to his many roles, Norman is a member of the Penn State chapters of the National Society of Black Engineers and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). 

In fall of 2019, Norman joined SHPE for their annual national convention in Phoenix, Arizona, with the goal of finding internship opportunities. 

“I took a leap of faith and got in the long line for Goldman Sachs,” Norman said, noting that several companies were present. “I spoke to the first recruiter after waiting, then I got back in line for another recruiter. I just worked my way through all of them. I wanted to make sure they all knew my name.”

His diligence paid off. Norman was asked back for a more formal interview the next day. Norman spoke to recruiters about his industrial engineering education, his organizations and his interest in the company. He was selected as a final round candidate and flown to Hudson, New York, to interview again. 

“I didn’t have the internship yet, but I remember crying in the hotel room the night before,” Norman said. “I worked so hard and my parents sacrificed so much for me to be able to go to school. I stayed up all night making sure that I knew all their financial reports.”

He got his wish: Norman was selected to intern with Goldman Sachs during summer 2020 in the operations division. It was a success for both Norman and the company — pending his May 2021 graduation, he has accepted an offer as an operations analyst for Goldman Sachs.

“My parents are extremely proud of me, and so am I,” Norman said. “They think that my education has helped me take more initiative and responsibility. I hope to continue my work and I hope to somehow leave a legacy at Penn State for other students like me.”

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Last Updated April 15, 2021