Brazilian native finds her Southern place at Mississippi State-Meridian

MERIDIAN, Miss.—Luiza Dos Santos Dobbins has come a long way since arriving in the United States several years ago from Brazil.

As an exchange student from Rio de Janeiro in 2011, she resided with a West Alabama family and attended Southern Choctaw High School in Gilbertown, Alabama. After returning to Brazil to finish her studies, a number of unforeseen situations led her to pursue and complete a GED instead. She then told her parents she wanted to return to Mississippi to earn a university degree.

“I had a hard time readjusting when I moved back to Brazil,” Dobbins recalled recently.  After having lived in a small town of slightly more than 200, she said Rio—population 6.2 million—“seemed really loud and congested.”

Dobbins said her parents were supportive of the move “although I know they would like for me to return someday and help with the family business. But, it’s been good for me here; I like the South and living in a small town.”

In August 2012, Dobbins enrolled at Meridian Community College, where she was a member of the Honors College and Phi Theta Kappa national honor society.

She also continued a relationship with Calob Dobbins of Quitman, Mississippi. The two had met through mutual friends when she was an exchange student and they Skyped nightly when she was back in Brazil. The couple got married last October.

In May of this year, Dobbins earned her associate degree and transferred immediately to Mississippi State University-Meridian to study accounting. Because her father and other family members own various businesses in Brazil, she said she felt a natural pull to earn a business-related degree. 

As she had earned scholarships at MCC, her continuing hard work again was rewarded with several scholarships at MSU-Meridian. Of particular note, she is one of 10 students initiated recently into the new Riley Scholars Program supported by The Riley Foundation, a Lauderdale County-based philanthropic organization.

Specifically, the foundation is providing 10 two-year scholarships worth $2,500 each per academic year. To be designated Riley Scholars, MSU-Meridian students must have completed at least two years of study at a community college with a grade-point average of 3.25 or higher (based on a 4.0 scale).

“Sometimes you have goals that seem almost out of reach you know, but when I was designated a Riley Scholar, it really helped me believe that I can reach my goals,” said Dobbins. “Now I can set other goals for my future, and I know if I’ve accomplished what I have up to this point, there is nothing to stand in the way of achieving my dreams.”

Even so, when entering MSU-Meridian, the 20-year-old was concerned that she wouldn’t know any other students or they would be older and more experienced. With a month of classes behind her, those fears have dissipated.

“Several students from my classes at MCC are here at MSU-Meridian and that was a nice surprise,” she said.

“I guess what I’ve liked most about the university is the professors,” she added. “They really are willing to get to know you and you can tell they want to help you succeed both academically and professionally.”

Dobbins said she feels “like everyone is happy to work here and that they enjoy being part of the Bulldog family and they want you to enjoy it, too.”

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