Where Are They Now? First in a series of articles catching up with former students who received scholarships through Foundation For The Carolinas.

It’s not every student who gets to stand inside a National Football League stadium to be officially recognized as a scholarship winner. But for Charlotte native Bryanna Norwood, that’s exactly how it all went down in 2013.

Norwood, back then an East Mecklenburg High School senior, was awarded the Carolina Panthers Players Sam Mills Memorial Scholarship. Now, years later, she retains vivid memories of that day at Bank of America Stadium – watching the Panthers’ preseason game from a suite high above the field, being escorted down to one of the end zones just before halftime, the emotional rush of hearing her name announced over the public address system and seeing her face flash across one of the big screens.

“It was all over, she said, in a “split instance.”

More lasting has been the scholarship’s impact.

Norwood said the scholarship funds she received through Foundation For The Carolinas helped her to attend Wake Forest University and graduate with a debt load smaller than it might have been. Today, she works as a public finance analyst in the corporate and investment banking unit at Wells Fargo Securities.

“It definitely took a weight off my shoulders and my parents’ shoulders back when I was a freshman,” she said. “…Any cent [or] dollar counted for me.”

Tribute to a leader

The Carolina Panthers Players Sam Mills Memorial Scholarship is one of 150 scholarship programs managed by Foundation For The Carolinas. Funded by the Carolina Panthers and named after the late Panthers linebacker who inspired the team’s “Keep Pounding” slogan, the scholarship is awarded yearly to two high school seniors — one male and one female.

Mills died in 2005 from intestinal cancer at age 45, and the team established the scholarship as a tribute to his dedication and leadership. Scholarship recipients are selected based on “outstanding athletic participation, leadership and academic achievement,” according to a scholarship web page.

Norwood, who at East Meck played softball and was a cheerleader, said she found the scholarship while surfing the internet. It seemed a perfect fit.

“I wrote out my essay and everything, because they were looking for students who were athletes, but [students] who were also really heavily involved in the community,” she said.

Bryanna Norwood says she fell in love with Wake Forest University after visiting on a rainy day in 2013. She graduated in 2017 with a degree in politics and international affairs. (Photo: Bryanna Norwood)

As part of her essay, Norwood listed “51 Reasons” why she believed she should get the scholarship –  a nod to Mills’ jersey number when he played for the Panthers.

“I needed something to make myself stand out,” she recalled. “I remember sitting in my parents’ office, literally typing away at the computer.”

From high school, Norwood went on to attend Wake Forest, planning to later study law. She majored in politics and international affairs, graduating in 2017.

But life has a way of shifting goals.

A career discovered

Norwood said her career ambitions began to take a different path during two summer internships with Wells Fargo, where she became intrigued by the workings of the financial industry.

“I’m excited to learn,” she said. “I think that’s the biggest thing that I really love about what I do. I’ve always been a learner.”

 Now back in Charlotte, Norwood said she can’t reveal too much about the work she does, helping municipalities finance public projects through debt obligations.

 When she’s not working, she enjoys hanging out with friends and family, and going to Panthers and Charlotte Hornets games. She also does volunteer service – last year serving on the board of Young Leaders, a United Way of Central Carolinas program that encourages young professionals to get involved in their community.

“Whenever there’s somebody that wants me to talk to their son or daughter or niece or nephew, I’m always available to help out with that,” she said.

Norwood said that, for now, she’s happy to stay in the financial sector. And as for her former dreams of being a lawyer, she said she’s never looked back.

“No regrets at all. I wouldn’t change anything,” she said. “For me, I’ve always been led, just from a spiritual perspective. That’s really, really big in my life — faith. So I don’t ever look back. I live in the present.”

Apply For a FFTC Scholarship: The application cycle starts December 2. Get more information at www.fftc.org/scholarships

This article was reported and written by Jonathan Limehouse.

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