"Proud to be a Latino and Puerto Rican:" Recent college grad encourages other Latinos to showcase heritage and culture
Attending a non-diverse university sparked the idea for Mark Novales to create an organization where other Latinos can have a voice and feel more represented on campus.
A native of Philadelphia, when Mark Novales was growing up in the North and Northeast sections of the city, he saw a lot of diversity both in terms of the neighborhoods he lived in and the schools he attended
“Most schools [I went to] were mostly Latino and Black, and that’s kind of what I was used to,” said Novales.
Aside from a time in middle school when he attended a mostly-white private school, the level of diversity remained relatively consistent.
When it was time to start applying for college, he felt he wanted to branch outside the city and experience something new and different.
Ultimately, Novales made the decision to attend the University of Pittsburgh in 2016.
“I didn’t really know much about the city before going,” he said, noting that he drew from his experiences of seeing different types of people throughout his life when adjusting to college life in Pittsburgh.
Upon his arrival, Novales quickly noticed the difference in the two city’s demographics.
“I didn’t see a lot of people that looked like me,” Novales said of the city. “It was a very different vibe and very different dynamic than what I was used to here in Philly.”
The same dynamic was experienced at Pitt, where the Latino population among students is under 4%.
It took some time for Novales to adjust to being in that environment with such a lack of a Latino presence. However, what helped him was being active and getting involved on campus.
After meeting a few of the other Latino students as a freshman, Novales had the idea of starting a club.
In 2018, Novales became the founder and president of the first Latino organization in the University of Pittsburgh, since the Caribbean and Latin American Student Association (CLASA) - the Latinx Student Association.
“That was a huge part of my time at Pitt,” he said. “Establishing that organization, establishing a community for Latinos at Pitt, to give students a community and a voice on campus.”
The Latinx Student Association gave Novales and other Latino students at the university a platform.
With that platform, they spoke about the Families Belong Together movement and worked with faculty to officially recognize and celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month for the first time in the university’s history.
“We were really just trying to form a community for other Latino students to feel accepted, to be able to know that there’s other students at our university in the same boat that have shared experiences [and] to celebrate our backgrounds and our cultures,” said Novales.
This past May, Novales was chosen as one of the speakers at Pitt’s first-ever virtual graduation ceremony.
As the Class of 2020 has had to graduate in the midst of a pandemic, the main message in his speech was rather clear: be proud of the accomplishment.
While commencement ceremonies have been taking place virtually, without the traditional pomp and circumstance, it shouldn’t overshadow or diminish the milestone of graduating college.
“I just kinda advised students to take a moment, think about all the hard work you put in … and be proud of it,” Novales said.
Upon his graduation, Novales accepted a management consultant position job offer at Ernst & Young, after interning there as an undergrad.
“I’m just excited to put on the adult hat and go to that next phase of my life,” he said.
The industry fits the skills he acquired as he earned his degree in accounting and business information systems.
Eager to start his professional career, Novales also hopes to go to grad school at some point in the near future, as well as work in nonprofit management, which he has experience in along with his parents.
“I’ve kind of always had the mentality to give back and to serve others,” he said.
Throughout the process of growing into and finding himself, Novales said he’s never been more proud to be a Latino and Puerto Rican.
His work in college has taught him a lot about not only himself, but the complexity of other people’s identity, as well.
“It’s really given me a voice and helped other Latinos grow,” said Novales.
Therefore, he hopes to continue to give a platform for other Latinos to have the confidence to speak and showcase themselves.