Navarro and his mother
From a young age, the importance of education was impressed upon Pedro Navarro, a junior chemical engineering student from Brazil. His mother is a Portuguese teacher and saw firsthand the discrepancies between public and private schools in their hometown, but she couldn’t afford to send her son to private school. Instead, she filled their home with books, allowed an amateur chemistry lab to be built in the backyard, and encouraged her son to apply for any opportunity that came his way. Why not? she would repeat. Why not try? Why not experiment? Why not apply?
Though his dream of attending Colégio Uirapuru, a prestigious private high school, was well beyond their budget, she helped him find and apply to Ismart (Social Institute to Motivate, Support and Recognize Talents), a scholarship which provides tuition for high-achieving, low-income students at private high schools. Why not apply? she encouraged him, with her ceaseless optimism. He was admitted.
In 2013, Ismart hosted a presentation by Notre Dame alumni about the university and the opportunities it could provide to students, including a summer program for international students, iLED (International Leadership, Enrichment and Development). Pedro was immediately fascinated, but he argued the chances of acceptance were slim, his English wasn’t great, he had never been out of the country, nor had he ever been on a plane.
Waving off his doubts, his mother echoed once more, why not apply? It echoed his father's advice to work hard and never give up, despite any financial hardships. Sure enough, just weeks later, he was en route to South Bend.
The two-week courses in Notre Dame International's iLED are a diverse assortment ranging from architecture to engineering, physics to performing arts, business to astronomy, all taught by Notre Dame faculty. A taste of residence life, field trips, extracurricular activities and leadership opportunities round out the experience and paint a holistic peek at college life in South Bend.
After just two weeks, Navarro was certain he wanted to return as an undergraduate.
“Given the level of academic diversity iLED offered me, and how it allowed us to see everything ND had to offer, it really got me in love with the structure of the university,” he says. “It was easy to notice how the ND students there loved ND, and community was always the first thing they would mention about the university.”
That community welcomed him with open arms when he arrived to Knott Hall in the fall of 2016. He was the only international student in his section, but offers for help with homework, lessons in slang, trips to his friends’ homes for holidays, were plentiful.
Most notably, he recalls, his friends rallied around his family when they were experiencing financial difficulty.
“Since a flight back to Brazil is way too expensive for me and my family to afford, I decided not to go back during the last winter break and asked my mom to use the savings we had in order to fix our house,” he says.
“I once mentioned this whole situation to a couple friends, and they decided to surprise me. One day one of them came to me, and gave me a letter. Inside the letter, there was a check,” he continues. “Basically they said in the letter that I was like family for them, and that is what family is for. The check was to be given to my mom so she could fix our house.”
His time at iLED also prepared Navarro for the diversity he would experience at Notre Dame, he says. “Since students from all over the world attend iLED, you get to know people from the most distinctive backgrounds, which also happens in ND undergrad.” Now as an undergraduate, he has friends from Nicaragua, Russia, Argentina and Haiti, many of whom work together on organic chemistry problem sets and chemical engineering projects.
Those projects in chemical engineering, in addition to his laboratory experience with the Schaefer research group, have proven valuable this summer as he works at the Research and Development division at 3M in Sumaré, Brazil. The role was offered to him after he unknowingly met the president of 3M Brazil at a tailgate before the ND-USC game.
Navarro and his mother started an after school program for local kids
Though he’s moving forward in his aspiration to become a chemical engineer, Navarro continues to return to his and his mother’s shared passion for education. In 2014, while still in high school, he founded Motivando o Futuro (Motivating the Future) to provide science-based education and opportunities for motivated public-school students in Brazil.
To continue and grow his endeavor, his mother converted his project into Educandário e Instituto André Luiz, a before- and after-school program with more than 50 students and 50 volunteers. The educandário offers classes in math, English, Spanish, chemistry, physics, biology and Portuguese, in addition to workshops and lectures, to help provide opportunities for the participants. Pedro often returns to the program to teach and participate.
“ND always emphasizes how giving back to community is important and how we should give our time and effort to help others,” he says. “This way, I really want to stay involved with educational projects in Brazil, while also working as a chemical engineer.”
Navarro's success at iLED and at Notre Dame has inspired additional Brazilian Ismart students to apply, and he says he loves seeing the same “sparkle” in their eye that he had many years ago. But he’s quick to note that iLED reaches far beyond Brazil and is successfully making Notre Dame a household name around the globe.
“I think iLED is undoubtedly really important is terms of providing us an experience of what studying at ND is like,” he says. “More and more students are applying to ND after attending iLED, and many other students have attended iLED since I went to ND in 2013, so I believe it really helps to make the university more famous in other countries.”