Sol sitting by a river
Globally Minded Growth
International Trinity senior finds community, supportive faculty, career path

Sol Chiara Rivas Lopes ’23 came to Trinity University looking for a way to stand out from the crowd.

How’s this:

As a new Trinity graduate, Sol speaks four languages, has an international background stemming from Argentina and Brazil, took on triple majors in international studies, political science, and French, fought for human rights while studying abroad, and has her sights set on a master’s degree in public policy. 

“This is something that's very ingrained in Trinity’s culture,” Sol says of her versatile journey. “Most people that I know here have double majors at least, and triple majors aren’t uncommon. You're in an environment that really encourages the sort of intellectual pursuit that makes you stand out.” 

But at Trinity, standout students like Sol also get the chance to find something just as valuable: places to fit in

Finding a Path

As a first-year, Sol might have known what she wanted to study—political science, international studies, languages, and literature—but she had no idea what to do with those subjects after graduation.

“Growing up, I always had kind of like this ‘global thing,’ because I was born in Argentina, then moved to Brazil, and I grew up with that dual citizenship. So I knew that I wanted to work with something that was international and global,” Sol says. “I even thought about being pre-law, but I just realized that I wasn't interested in being a lawyer.”

Sol might have spoken multiple languages—Portuguese, Spanish, and English while picking up French along the way—but she had no idea who to speak them with at school as a young international student still waiting on her green card.

“When I first moved to the U.S. [in high school], I really hated it,” Sol says. “I felt weirdly ‘in between’ because I didn’t consider myself fully American, and I wasn’t a U.S. citizen. And though I consider myself mostly Latina now, and especially Brazilian, I still didn’t really see myself as Latina at the time. Growing up, where I lived in Brazil, I was just a white girl. So for a while, I really struggled because the way I perceived myself all my life was different to the way others perceived me now.”

At Trinity, Sol found answers to these challenges. “Right from my first visit, I felt like I saw myself on campus. Trinity felt like a very welcoming community,” she says. 

Sol felt particularly welcomed in the fields of political science, international studies, and French, which has become her fourth language. While the first two fields were part of Sol’s plan as a first-year, her love of language and literature drove her to look beyond French as a minor and take it on as a third major. 

“I’ve tried to take one French class a semester because it’s like a muscle: If you don't train it, you're gonna lose it,” Sol says. “And as someone who loves reading, loves books, I really enjoyed being able to take literature classes in French. And because Trinity focuses on the liberal arts through our Pathways curriculum, I was also able to explore other interests without necessarily giving up what I wanted to do primarily.”

Sol (far right) stands with modern languages and literatures professor Rita Urquijo-Ruiz, Ph.D., (right) and other students after the 2023 Honor Awards Convocation.

Thanks to Pathways and a liberal arts environment, which encourages interdisciplinary collisions instead of overly focusing on narrow career avenues, students like Sol also get to discover how academic crossover can help them flourish. She started homing in on a future career in public policy analysis while developing a diverse set of skills through other subjects.

“Because I like reading books, I love analyzing stuff,” Sol says. “Literature is such a big mirror to a lot of political developments and societal developments, so it was actually super helpful with my political science stuff. It seemed every semester that the themes of all my classes just meshed really well together. It’s like each subject was giving me a different lens to view the same lesson.”

Hands-on Learning

Soon, Sol’s analytical skills were standing out so well that professors were coming to her with opportunities to apply her skills outside the classroom. 

Trinity is known not only for having acclaimed faculty but also for having acclaimed faculty that want to work in partnership with undergraduates. So, for example, when Sol aced a paper for Peter O’Brien, Ph.D., the political science professor started presenting her with opportunities to advance her political science career.

“My first class with him, I was actually having a terrible semester,” Sol says, laughing. “He's like, notoriously a hard grader. And I wrote this paper for him, and I got an email back that was like, ‘Okay, not bad!’ and it was this A-minus. He also mentioned he wanted to talk to me after class one day, and I got all scared. But it turned out he wanted to nominate me for a Fulbright Diversity Initiative internship that brings an exchange of German students to campus.”

As Sol starred in this role and kept starring in her classes, she noticed something else: O’Brien (and other faculty) kept pushing her towards new opportunities. After turning in another stellar paper on social capital in Italy, for example, O’Brien sent her and other classmates with similarly themed works to present at the Southern Political Science Association Conference. 

“I think that's something that happens very often at Trinity, where students might not have the insight or the knowledge to be able to find these internships or opportunities, but professors will see you, realize you’re a good fit, and connect you,” Sol says. “Professors like O’Brien, when they see that you’re doing good work, they actively suggest, ‘Hey, you guys should share this, you should expose it, you should put it out there in the field.”

Suffice to say, Sol says she developed a close working partnership with O’Brien, for whom she says, “I think I produced my best academic work.”

And these types of connections, between Trinity faculty and students, don’t end when final grades get posted. They don’t even end when students cross borders and oceans, thousands of miles away.

After developing some data analysis and quantitative reasoning skills in a research methods class, Sol decided to study abroad in Strasbourg, France, where she also completed an internship with the Council of Europe, the continent’s largest and leading human rights organization. “I wanted to be in a city that was so important to Europe, along with Brussels, because it has the European Parliament,” Sol says. “I knew that there I could see how politics worked, and having an internship there really solidified public policy analysis as what I wanted to do with my life.”

And, while attending a rally for French President Emmanuel Macron during that study abroad period, Sol thought her political science professor would get a kick out of seeing his student out in the field.

“I'm writing O’Brien online like, ‘Hey, we’re at a Macron rally right now,’ because we talked a lot about him during our European politics class,” Sol says, laughing. “So it was kind of funny how that worked out.”

left Sol snaps a quick selfie at a rally for French President Emmanuel Macron at a cathedral square in Strasbourg, France. right Sol (center) and her friends pose for a selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower.

And sure enough, coming back from study abroad, Sol found more opportunities waiting with O’Brien. 

“I’ve been doing research with him through an independent study, and he's very proactive in calling students to work with him,” Sol says. “And I think that helps you succeed a lot as a student. Faculty really create those opportunities that will make you stand out and develop skills that are helpful, not only in my internships but also for getting into graduate school.”

Lifelong Connections
As she was making strides at Trinity towards discovering her professional place in the world, Sol says she also found herself connecting more deeply to her peers and friends outside the bounds of the classroom.

“For someone who wasn’t used to … having a community that embraced me, I found that at Trinity,” Sol says. 

As a Latina, Sol says she enjoyed building connections through organizations like the Trinity University Latino Association (TULA). “We have those communities where you can be with people who are similar to you when you need that type of connection,” says Sol, who served as vice president for the organization. “But it's not like we isolate ourselves. Places like TULA, we have a bunch of events, and they're always open to other members of the community, not only those who are Latino.”

“And that’s the most fun way to celebrate your culture,” Sol adds, “When you're able to do it collectively. Not only with the people who share in it but also by being able to share it with others.”

Sol (far right) and some of her fellow Trinity University Latino Association members pose for a photo before performing at Viva las Américas. 

Finding this openness at Trinity was crucial for a student like Sol, who had an aforementioned tough time grappling with questions of identity and belonging. And this openness also encourages connection with other organizations, allowing students to explore cross-culturally with the same ease as they can hop across academic disciplines.

“So many [Trinity students] go to the Diwali event, and that’s just really fun, or the Holi festival of colors,” Sol says. “At Trinity, I think that everybody's not only able to find their own space but also to choose their own space. You’re invited and encouraged to participate in all sorts of things. It’s really rewarding, not only academically but also personally”

Through this series of connections, Sol says she finally found something to use her four languages for that’s just as important as fighting for international human rights or solving diplomatic crises: speaking them with friends.

“My best friend right now, she's from Colombia, and I met her while I was studying abroad,” Sol says. “So, we speak a lot in Spanish, and there are very few friendships that I do get to have in Spanish. And there's this connection that's deeper because of that.”

A Future of Growth

Sol’s now headed to a Master of Public Policy program at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. And with fluency in four languages, an international internship, and multiple hard-earned ace research papers under her belt, Sol says she’s ready to take the next step towards her future career.

And wherever she goes, she’s going to know that she belongs.

“Trinity has been helpful in helping me carve out my space, my place in U.S. society in general,” Sol says. “Trinity’s environment really fosters academic growth, personal growth, and professional growth in a way that’s just so very specific to Trinity,” Sol says. “It's kind of this ‘perfect mixture’ and ‘perfect condition’ of things that allowed me to grow in a way that I don't think I would've elsewhere.”

What does that space look like for Sol?

“Now that I’ve graduated, I actually wouldn’t say I'm an international student anymore,” she says. “I'm someone with an international background.”

Jeremiah Gerlach is the brand journalist for Trinity University Strategic Communications and Marketing.

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