Chandrionna Norman is graduating with Polk State College’s fall 2020 class and, because public transportation made it possible for her to get to and from class throughout her college journey, Norman aspires to dedicate her career to being an advocate for others who need transportation services.
She is already on the road to achieving this goal as a former intern and recently hired paratransit driver for Polk County’s public transit organization Citrus Connection.
“Bus drivers drive buses, but that’s not all they do. They provide opportunities to the public by giving them a way to and from work and school,” Norman said. “Our public transportation system provides citizens with freedom that they may not otherwise have. By providing transportation, we are opening up opportunities for our community.”
She understands this firsthand as a Lakeland resident who has benefited from Polk State’s partnership with Citrus Connection, which provides free bus transportation for students with their College IDs.
When she was a sophomore at Kathleen High School, Norman began taking dual-enrollment courses at Polk State. She knew from a young age that she wanted to go to college, but as the first generation in her family to do so, she was not sure how to navigate the admissions and financial aid processes.
“Dual enrollment was difficult for me because I felt as though everyone else was on a different level. They had reliable transportation and financial resources that I didn’t have,” she explained. “Transitioning from high school to college was a struggle because no one in my family had any idea of what I needed to do. But my professors were great, and I was able to get the support I needed.”
“Transitioning from high school to college was a struggle because no one in my family had any idea of what I needed to do. But my professors were great, and I was able to get the support I needed.”
Norman turned down scholarships to Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and Bethune-Cookman University to stay home with her late grandmother and father, who is legally blind and relies on Norman for assistance.
Her father is a single dad who raised her with the help of her grandmother, who passed away in 2016 when she was taking finals during her first semester as a Polk State Associate in Arts student. Norman reflects on the struggles her family has endured to help her get to where she is today.
“My dad has always wanted this for me, and he has been my main support. He raised me by himself and we were asked ‘how do you survive?’” she said. “We had to learn to fight – not in a bad way, but in a way that enabled us to push through. That is my advice to anyone – to push through and be your own advocate.”
Now she wants to be an advocate for others. Her goal is to become a “travel trainer.”
“There may not be an official title for it, but I want to teach people how to ride public transportation by showing them how the system works, from making payments to what routes they need to take,” she explained. “I also want to work with businesses to create transportation hubs that would help employees get to and from work and bring more people to their businesses.”
Norman’s initiative, paired with the resources and dedicated employees at Polk State, has resulted in many opportunities including networking that has not only helped her along her educational journey, but has also propelled her forward into a career in transportation.
She recalls the compassion Professor of College Success Von McGriff illustrated when Norman’s grandmother passed away.
“My professors were so understanding and were willing to excuse me from class,” she said. “I still came in and was balling my eyes out, but I did it and my professors were really wonderful to me.”
She considers Coordinator of Internships and Experiential Learning Matina Wagner her mentor.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after graduation,” said Norman, who is receiving a Polk State Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management. “She connected me with internships with Citrus Connection and in the College’s Global Studies Program, which was a turning point for me in my life.”
Through her internship with Global Studies Program Coordinator Kim Simpson, Norman said she learned the importance of excellent customer service and being a caring supervisor.
“When my car would break down and I had to take the bus to campus, Kim was always understanding and told me to focus on getting to my classes,” Norman said. “She was always the first person to ask me how my dad was doing and what was going on at home. That really changed me and showed me how I want to be there for other people like she has been there for me.”
Through her internship with Citrus Connection, Norman had the opportunity to further develop her supervision and management skills in the operations department.
She completed the sixth month internship on October 3 and started as a full-time employee with Citrus Connection on October 19.
“I hope to move up to a supervisor position in the future, but I want to gain driving experience first,” Norman said. “If I am going to be managing drivers, I want to understand the fundamentals of what they do.”
The knowledge and skills she have gained at Polk State have laid a strong foundation for Norman to build upon as she pursues her passion and launches her career.
“I am not only the first person in my household to come to college; I am also the first to earn more than $20,000 year. Polk State has given me the education to raise the socioeconomic status for me and my family.”
“I am not only the first person in my household to come to college; I am also the first to earn more than $20,000 year. Polk State has given me the education to raise the socioeconomic status for me and my family,” Norman said. “I couldn’t have done this without public transportation. The bus has been a key factor in me coming to Polk State. Without the bus system, I may not have finished my degree. My car was always giving out on me – it still is!”
She encouraged all students to “push through” despite obstacles and challenges.
“It feels surreal to be graduating,” Norman said. “It once seemed out of reach and now I’m here. Students, hang in there, even when things get rough. Every semester I had something go wrong but I found the resources and the people to help, and you can too.”
Polk State will recognize Norman and the College’s fall 2020 graduates during a virtual graduation celebration on December 10 at 6:30 p.m. on www.polk.edu/academics/graduation and Polk State’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.