Santiago Pedraza

One day, while Santiago Pedraza was attending high school in his native Spain, his father said, “Hey, have you thought about doing a year in the United States?

Santi’s father had earned his master’s degree at the University of Dallas back in 1994. He had loved his time in the States, and he wanted to share the experience with his son.

So after his  sophomore year in high school,  Santiago Pedraza came to the States to attend school.

But instead of one year, he has stayed for five years—his college years at UIS–and he plans to stay even longer.

From sunny Spain to snowy Spokane

Santi knew very little English when he came as a high school student to stay with a host family in Spokane, Washington.

“I would throw out some words in hopes that my friends or host family would understand, and then we would all laugh together,” Santi says. “Fortunately, my host brother knew a little Spanish, so we would communicate that way.”

By the end of his second semester in the States, Santi had started understanding more English and speaking a little bit. “And then after that,” he says, “it has been getting better.”

The Spokane weather surprised Santi. This past year, the first snowfall in Spokane fell in early November.  “And  it will go on snowing until April!” Santi says.

Setbacks for the country of Spain

During Santi’s first year in Spokane, unexpected troubles occurred in Spain as a result of a severe economic recession.

“When I went home for winter break,” he says, “the big department stores—equivalent to Macy’s—were completely empty. Nobody was buying presents, and grocery stores also were completely empty.”

Given these realities, Santi’s father suggested Santi stay in the States for his senior year of high school. Santi loved the idea. “I wanted to stay longer,” he says.

A college degree in the States

Playing on his high school tennis team presented a new opportunity to Santi–staying in the States through college.

His high school coach proposed the idea. “He wasn’t talking Division 1 or anything,” Santi says, “but he thought I could definitely play D2 or D3.”

Croquetas from Taberna Pedraza

Croquetas from Taberna Pedtraza

By then, things had improved a little back in Spain, and his parents had opened a restaurant in Madrid called Taberna Pedraza, serving regional specialties of Spain. (“The croquetas are my favorite,” Santi says).

The restaurant was doing well, but Santi’s father still encouraged Santi to stay in the States for college.

“College graduates in Spain were not getting jobs,” Santi says, “and if I stayed in the States, I could network with people and find a job after college.”

Since he was a child, Santi has loved electronics, and he knew he wanted to major in computer science. “There is no research or development in computers going on in Spain,” he says, “so that was another reason to stay in the States.”

Job prospects in computer science were another reason: According to the U.S. Department of Labor, based on current graduation rates, American students will be able to fill only about 29% of jobs that require a computer science bachelor’s.

So not only would Santi be able to find a job—companies in the U.S. will also be happy to have him as part of their workforce.

How Santi found a place at UIS

With these opportunities in mind, Santi applied at many colleges, but even though most were willing to admit Santi to their athletics program, the scholarships they offered were very small.

All except UIS.

Manny Velasco, tennis coach at UIS at the time, told Santi he wanted to help out and offered Santi the scholarship support Santi needed.

“I checked out the computer science program at UIS,” Santi says. “It looked pretty decent, plus I would get a U of I degree, so we just went from there.

The Ron Gibbs Athletic Scholarship In Memory of Ronald and Josephine Gibbs

To pay for college, Santi has a job in the information Technology Services at UIS, as well as scholarships through the Athletics Department.

This year, Santi also received the Ron Gibbs Athletic Scholarship, a scholarship that honors a prominent Springfield resident.

Ron Gibbs lived in Springfield for 55 years before his death in 1985. During these years, Mr. Gibbs officiated in football and basketball games at every level of sports—from local high school games to national games in the NIT and NCAA, as well as 15 Super Bowl games.*

The Gibbs family established the Gibbs Athletic Scholarship is 1992 as a way to honor the memory of Ron and his wife, Josephine who died in 1992. Recipients must be student athletes with a GPA of at least 3.0 and a genuine interest in sports officiating.

A worthy addition to the Prairie Stars tennis team

Santi has had a lot of success as a UIS Prairie Star. This past year, he—Santiago Pedraza

  • Posted a 13-10 overall record in singles action, competing mainly in the No. 4 slot;
  • Had three wins in the No. 3 spot;
  • Had a 10-14 doubles record including a 9-12 mark in the No. 2 position;
  • Won his first two matches of the year against Judson and Westminster (Sept. 12);
  • Pulled out a victory against GLVC foe William Jewell on March 1;
  • Shut out Illinois Valley in the No. 4 spot on March 13 ;
  • Dropped just two games in a victory in the No. 3 spot against Millikin (April 9);
  • Closed out the year with back-to-back victories against Quincy (April 12) and Illinois College (April 14).

Santi deserves accolades for two other achievements:

  • He was named to the Athletic Director’s honor roll.
  • He earned a spot on the Academic All-GLVC team.

He has enjoyed being part of the tennis team. “The opportunity to experience the life of an athlete is great: trips, matches, practices, early morning runs—I love it!”

Future plans for Santi

Back home in Spain, Santi’s family is doing well. In fact, Taberna Pedraza, his parents’ restaurant, was profiled in the December 1 issue of Forbes magazine as one of the 16 coolest places to eat in the world. Wow!

Santi says the economic situation is also better now in Spain: “You start seeing more money flow.”

As much as he loves his native Spain–and UIS has certainly benefited from the cultural diversity he brings with him–Santi plans to stay in the States for his master’s degree. “My experience at UIS has been great and all my professors are incredibly smart. My dream is to work for a big firm in a big city. UIS has given me the basis to chase that dream and I will forever be thankful to them for that.”

After his master’s degree? “Maybe Google will hire me!”

Without doubt, wherever Santi goes, whatever he does, he’ll keep reaching high. Thanks to Manny Velasco for helping to bring Santi to UIS, and thanks to the Gibbs family for your part in helping him graduate.

We welcome your gifts in any amount to the Ron Gibbs Athletic Scholarship in Memory of Ronald and Josephine Gibbs.

*Fans of football and especially the Chicago Bears might be interested in this article which recounts When the NFL went big time and which mentions Ron Gibbs as referee.