Pedro dos Santos, ’04, returned to the place that inspired his passion for lifelong learning and sparked his interest in academia.
The Baker University graduate and associate professor of political science at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, delivered the keynote address at Baker University’s Scholars Symposium on April 19 at the George F. Collins Jr. Sports and Convention Center. The Scholars Symposium showcases student research and individual projects while allowing students to share insights with audience members. During his talk, dos Santos shared what made his Baker experience rewarding: the importance of gratitude, learning from failure, and lifelong learning.
“Pedro was a great choice for speaker given his academic background, his current position, the success he has had in that position, and his experience as an international student-athlete at Baker,” said Ryan Gibb (right), associate professor of international studies and director of the honors program at Baker. “The purpose of the talk is to inspire students academically as well as professionally.”
From Brazil to Basketball
Born and raised in Brazil, dos Santos followed his brother Julio, ’00, to Baker. He was inspired by the stories Julio shared about his experiences as a student-athlete on the Baldwin City campus.
“When I started looking for schools in the U.S., Baker was on my radar,” dos Santos said. “I was looking into other places, but then the scholarship offer from Baker was very enticing, so I arrived on campus in January 2000 on a flight from Brazil, sight unseen.”
Dos Santos arrived at Baker interested in the international business program. He completed courses in math, English, and political science before transitioning to more classes that had an international emphasis.
“When I started understanding exactly how things worked more with courses, I focused on my international business classes while also taking courses that interested me, especially history and political science,” he said.
By the end of his sophomore year, dos Santos decided to double major and took political science more seriously, too, eventually earning bachelor’s degrees in international business and political science.
In addition to his studies, dos Santos enjoyed connecting with his classmates and playing basketball at Baker. He also met his wife, Cara Langston, ’05, on the Baldwin City campus.
“Academically, I really found myself and my love for learning at Baker,” he said. “I have fond memories staying up very late working in the basement of the library where the computer lab stayed open 24 hours a day, just nerding out with all the other people working on their research papers late at night.”
Shift to Academia
After Baker, dos Santos earned a master’s degree and a doctoral degree in political science from the University of Kansas. He served as assistant basketball coach at Baker during the 2009-10 season and was an adjunct instructor in international studies at his alma mater in 2011-12. In 2012, he began his full-time teaching career at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. Since 2018, dos Santos has been at Saint Benedict and Saint John’s teaching First Year Seminar, International Business, The Global South, and Global Gender Issues.
“If not for my education at Baker, I would have never realized that academia was a possible path for me,” he said. “I was in my senior year when a professor [Ryan Beasley] mentioned that I should pursue a post-graduate degree in political science.”
Before receiving that advice, dos Santos had planned to complete his studies at Baker, return to Brazil, or go to Europe and play professional basketball and then figure out what to do.
“My interactions with students, staff, and faculty at Baker changed the trajectory of my life,” he said. “It was taking the challenging classes I took at Baker, discussing difficult topics with students, and seeing the dedication of the professors that made me realize I liked research, teaching, and mentoring. I went to graduate school knowing that I wanted to be in a place just like Baker, a place I could make a clear difference in students’ lives while pursuing my scholarly interests.”
Fulbright Distinguished Scholar
In July 2022, his scholarly interests contributed to his selection as a Fulbright Distinguished Scholar. He was embedded at the Federal University of Minas Gerais as part of the Fulbright Interdisciplinary Network in Brazil and has been researching Brazilian legislative elections and campaign finance.
When he applied for the award, the grant officers at Saint Benedict and St. John’s politely asked him, “Do you think you are distinguished enough to get this award?” Dos Santos responded, “I don’t think so, but let’s find out.” He was surprised when he received the award, especially because the honor tends to be awarded to large research institutions rather than small liberal arts colleges.
“I knew I had a strong proposal, but with awards like this you never know exactly what they are looking for,” he said. “I am especially excited because in this project I have been able to work more closely with policymakers and bureaucrats, so my research may have direct impact on the Brazilian system.”
Gibb believes dos Santos is a perfect match for the symposium because of his academic experiences and the Scholars Symposium tradition.
Dialogue Between Students, Faculty, and Research
“While most of their research and work goes unnoticed, students at the symposium have a chance to invite others into their projects,” Gibb said. “These types of conferences build dialogue between students and faculty about interesting topics. The audience can see what projects other students have completed and are emboldened. Students who participate gain experience presenting complicated ideas coherently and for a broader audience than just their classroom peers and professors.”
Gibb said several majors were represented at the symposium, including psychology, applied health, English, biology, history, international studies, education, sociology, theatre, and Spanish.
“Students also gave presentations from their interterm classes,” Gibb said. “While honors students must present at the symposium once during their time at Baker to graduate with the honors distinction, most of the students are upper-college students with excellent projects.”
Written by Steve Rottinghaus, ’14 MSM