The devastating economic impacts of the COVID 19 pandemic nearly cost Roberto Soares the opportunity of a lifetime—the chance to earn a degree at Illinois State University and become the first person in his family to complete college.

Originally from Brazil, Soares had always dreamed of living in the midwestern United States where he could improve his English while getting a high-quality education. Upon arriving at ISU in Spring 2019 he dove head-first into campus life, joining RSOs, trying out for plays, and participating in the community.

Now a junior theater major, Soares has had a role in three main-stage productions: Roe, Waiting for Lefty, and Rhinoceros. In addition, he is currently the diversity chair for the “Spread the Magic” RSO, a group whose members dress up as characters to visit hospitals, nursing homes, or anywhere the young – or young at heart – gather.  His active involvement in the Latin American Artists club has helped him learn more about the Latino community, and his involvement in Students Ending Rape Culture (SERC), provides a way to address a cause he is very passionate about.

Meanwhile, he is part of the International House Ambassador program, as well as serving as a mentor in the I-House Mentorship Adjustment Program (MAP).  The activities in which he has participated are too numerous to mention, but Soares says, “ISU give me the space to grow.  Since my freshman year, I have been putting myself out there. ISU gave me the support I needed to pursue my dreams.”

Those dreams nearly came to an end, however, when the COVID pandemic caused a major disruption to his family’s primary source of income. When Soares first came to ISU, his family owned a thriving company that typically employed 45 to 50 workers. As pandemic-related issues took their toll, the company was hard-hit, and they are now down to only two employees. “They work hard and are doing the best they can, but as with many families, funds are tight, and college tuition became a real challenge,” Soares said.

Thanks to International House Scholarships, however, Soares has been able to stay at ISU where he continues to thrive. “The scholarships helped me to pursue my dream. I am very thankful—if it was not for them, I would not still be here right now. They gave me the opportunity to shine. I have never been happier, and I cannot wait to see what the future hold for me at Illinois State University,” Soares said.

On Thursday, January 24 during Birds Give Back, a gift to the International House can provide students like Roberto Soares the chance to follow their dreams of continuing their education at Illinois State University.