Meet VALLEY’s Spring 2024 Campus Culture’s Section Opener: Matthew Cimafranca

Photo by Shana Andrews

As students come to Penn State with intended majors and aspirations for their future, they tend to take on the labels and stereotypes associated with the desired degree. “Finance Bros” and business majors take on Champs Downtown and Pickle’s four nights a week while the engineering majors stay cooped up in Westgate to work for hours on one assignment. The culture around people and their majors can create a narrow mindset on the true identity of someone reaching for that degree. 

Matthew Cimafranca, a fourth-year student pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering, goes against the status quo around engineering majors. Head-to-toe in the latest trends, Cimafranca isn’t defined by his the stereotype of his major.

Cimafranca grew up in the Philippines, until he immigrated to New York City with his mother and older brother to meet his father who had been working in the United States. Cimafranca talked about his initial culture shock from the colder weather to his new space of living. Throughout his life, Matthew experienced different cultures in New York City but never lost his Filipino identity.  

“I think that [immigrating to the United States] really shaped me into who I am now because I really root back to my Filipino heritage,” Cimafranca says.

Cimafranca still speaks the language and hopes to visit the Philippines this summer for the first time in years. His love for his heritage and other cultures has shaped his outlook on his career path. Cimafranca lives by his mantra, “Everything happens for a reason.” He has a purpose to work in the engineering field while connecting his passion for diversity and inclusion. 

Cimafranca wishes to support future engineers who may not be at the top of their class and build them up to reach their prime. Cimafranca is involved in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHEP), National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and Multicultural Engineering Program Orientation (MEPO), which are geared toward multicultural engineers.

His involvement doesn’t stop at general member status; he is the internal vice president for SHEP, secretary and communications chair for NSBE and organized the annual MEPO event.

“[MEPO] is an orientation program that lasts a week long right before school starts, and it’s basically for incoming first-year students, Cimafranca says. “We provide academic support, academic help, professional development and just social community building events in that one week.”

From this program, Cimafranca met other like-minded people and found a community before entering Penn State. Organizing and planning that event took about a year. Cimafranca saw his work come to fruition by co-organizing the MEPO event for 140 freshmen alongside Summer Walker, which he says is one of his greatest accomplishments.

Engineering has a rigorous and competitive atmosphere where students easily compare themselves to others, but programs and clubs like NSBE and MEPO created a safe space for Cimafranca. There are high expectations placed on engineering students to find an internship or job.

In addition to the internship search and intense environment, Cimafranca says that he found himself comparing himself to other engineers. He struggled his fall semester to find an internship, leading to his self-doubt. 

“I was trying to compare myself to other people because everyone was ready to go,” Cimafranca says.

The internship and job hunt felt challenging, but Cimafranca shares how he was able to find an opportunity in April through a NSBE convention. The pressure of finding the perfect internship and overall performing as “the perfect student” can create an unhealthy mindset that prohibits a balance between academics and social lives.

Cimafranca exhibits a perfect balance between working hard but prioritizing friends and his other hobbies. He explains how some students in his major don’t have self-control when it comes to studying more hours than sleeping. 

“There are times in your college career where you need to let it go because you tried your best.” 

Matthew Cimafranca

Cimafranca says this balance is extremely important when you have come to a point when your best interest is to sleep rather than study for a couple more hours. Cimafranca’s parents instilled him to try everything to the best of his ability but never to overdo it. 

Cimafranca finds inspiration from his older brother who has Down syndrome. His brother acts as an inspiration in his life and how to treat others, and this then translates into his friendships. 

“I want to make sure that [my friends] are happy, and I feel I translate that with my brother because I always wanted to make him happy.” 

Matthew Cimafranca

Cimafranca strives to make others feel included and happy above anything. His older brother influences his goal to create diversity and inclusion in the engineering field. Cimafranca will be working at DOW Chemical in Houston, Texas, post-graduation. He wishes for all engineers to maintain that balance between a social life and schoolwork as well as promoting DEI in his work field and at Penn State.


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