A Place Like Home

For as long as she can remember, Regina Munsch has been hailing to Pitt.

The 22-year old University of Pittsburgh senior said that because her mother and sister are both Pitt alumnae, she’s been a regular presence on campus throughout her entire life.

Regina Munsch “I grew up going to Lantern Night every year and volunteering there. Pitt was already home for me a long time before I stepped foot on campus as a freshman,” she said.

Mark Novales, a Philadelphia native, also considers Pitt home—but the feeling started a little differently.

“Growing up in Philly, I never really spent much time in Pittsburgh,” said Novales. “I’m the kind of person who wears my emotions on my sleeve, and I had a gut feeling that this is a place where I could succeed. It was a good match from the start.”

On April 26, four years after they chose Pitt, Novales and Munsch will share remarks during this weekend’s virtual commencement celebration as the featured undergraduate speakers.

Novales will graduate with degrees in accounting and business information systems from the College of Business Administration, a minor in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Economics and a certificate in global studies. Munsch will earn a degree in industrial engineering from the Swanson School of Engineering.

Early on, both Novales and Munsch made it a point to immerse themselves in the campus community. For Munsch, it was before most: She started at Pitt two weeks before the general first-year population since she was already a member of the Pitt Band.

In addition to her bandmates, she was also able to forge early connections to student academic leaders as a 2016 Nordenberg Leadership Scholar.

Learn about Lantern Night

Lantern Night is a special ceremony for women at Pitt to pass the light of learning on to the next generation, and it turns 100 this fall. Learn more and read about the last year’s event in Pitt Magazine.

“The Nordenberg scholarship instilled a really big vote of confidence for me, which was amazing,” she said. “I felt like I was able to use the skills and opportunities my mom and my sister had been laying out for me while also making my own mark as a Pitt student.”

In the next three years, she would also fulfill a “lifelong dream” by becoming a member of the Blue & Gold Society—an undergraduate student organization whose members serve as ambassadors for University programs and events. This year, she was elected president of the organization.

One unique part of Munsch’s path through Pitt was a major in industrial engineering that was designed to set her up for a career in dentistry. Munsch has dreamed of becoming a dentist since childhood, but also developed an affinity for computer science during high school. Once she researched Pitt’s course offerings and discussed options with her family, she realized an industrial engineering degree would allow her to meet all of the prerequisites required to attend the School of Dental Medicine. In her first year at Pitt, she was accepted to the school’s guaranteed admissions program and was officially admitted last year.

For Novales, he found his place on campus after going to the activity fair as a first-year student.

Mark Novales“I remember going to the activity fair as a freshman and saw a lot of cultural organizations, but I felt like mine was missing,” said Novales, whose family is Puerto Rican. “I thought, maybe I can do something about it.”

After connecting with other Latinx students, Novales founded and served as president of Pitt’s first Latinx Student Association, an accomplishment from which he sources some of his favorite memories from college. The organization has grown from an initial group of 25 members to a community of over 100 students who participate in cultural events, celebrations, educational experiences and advocacy efforts.

“Having this experience—I just can’t even put it into words. Having a community of people that understood my background and having the same experiences and struggles that I’ve had in my life, it was just fantastic,” said Novales.

A milestone for him was officially launching the organization in spring 2018 and then helping organize Hispanic Heritage Month in September 2018.

“I had never put my heart and soul so much into an event,” said Novales. “It was a great feeling having freshmen come up to me, thanking me that they were so glad they found a community where they belong.”

Lessons learned and forging ahead

Novales said throughout his time at Pitt, he aspired to be a part of a mission bigger than himself—something he’ll carry with him through his future.

“I’m not focused on landing a certain role or title or making a certain amount of money. I just want to be proud that I was part of an organization that made an impact and is aligned with my values,” he said.

After forming relationships at the accounting firm Ernst & Young through two internship experiences, Novales has accepted a full-time offer to join the company as a consultant after graduation.

Although earning a college degree during a global pandemic has Novales feeling “a mix of emotions,” he said a lesson can be learned.

“It’s easy to get lost in the craziness of things, but it’s important to take a deep breath and see where you’re at,” he said. “Take it one step at a time moving forward, and with all those small steps, you’ll see the impact you have.”

For Munsch, with her year cut short by these extraordinary times, she said the connections she made with professors and faculty have helped her push through to the finish line.

“Pitt’s a lot more than a university, or its staff or an institution. It’s also a lifestyle, it’s a family, it’s a support system,” she said.