Carnegie Mellon University
October 27, 2022

A Second CMU Student for First-Generation Family

By Caroline Sheedy

Peter Kerwin
  • University Communications & Marketing
  • 412-268-1151

Monica Paz remembers the first time she stepped foot on Carnegie Mellon University's campus. As a child, no older than nine, she attended CMU's annual Family Weekend with her parents to visit her older sister, Maricel Paz Pripstein, a 2012 graduate of the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

"I still have the CMU foam finger I made," she said.

Growing up in Miami, Paz never imagined she would study statistics. But since that visit, she always envisioned herself at Carnegie Mellon.

Now a junior majoring in statistics in the Dietrich College, Paz spent most of her childhood studying music. But her interest in one area surged.

"Here in Pittsburgh, we have snow days, but in Florida we have hurricane season and hurricane days," Paz said. "I became super fixated with hurricane tracking models, looking at all the figures I could find as like a middle schooler or high schooler. I loved watching how hurricanes changed and intensified — it started my love for analytics."

Because of the large age gap between the siblings and her first year at CMU starting virtually in the fall of 2020, Monica Paz felt like she could use a little support as she transitioned to college. Help arrived in the form of an invitation to the Tartan Scholars program.

"My parents did not have the opportunity to go to college. My sister went to CMU. We are almost 13 years apart, so our experiences have been very different," Paz said. "Even though we were virtual, I made my first CMU friends through Tartan Scholars, and the people who helped me in class were through Tartan Scholars. They laid the foundation for my experience at CMU."

Now, Paz has found her ground at CMU. In addition to Tartan Scholars, she's a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, on the executive board of the Carnegie Mellon Panhellenic Council and a member of the CMU Chorus.

Branden Ballard, the program manager for Tartan Scholars, said Paz's story is not unusual.

"First-generation students may not fully understand the systems of higher education, like where to go when you have a problem, a question or when you are excited about something. We help students understand how to navigate the system and make the system work for them," Ballard said. "I'm really proud of Monica!" 

This year, it was Paz's turn to shine at Family Weekend. Her mom, Dania Parra-Paz, and aunt made the trip to Pittsburgh from Florida. The family attended the chili cookoff (adding a 2022 Chili Cookoff mug to go with the one from 2011 in their collection), saw a bagpipe performance on campus and shopped for CMU merchandise for Paz's dad.

"My dad is a bigger CMU fan than any of us," Paz said.

It was a nice reminder of how far the family had come.

"My sister really shot for the stars and went to CMU. She was the first person in my family to leave the Miami Caribbean area for two generations. My parents shot for the stars when they came to this country from Cuba. And so, I'm here," Paz said. "I’m excited to see where this path takes me."