March 18, 2014
UCF Athletics Social Media Directory
By Jenna Marina
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFKnights.com) - Sofia Baptista, a self-proclaimed math enthusiast, is a special statistic all her own.
More than 7,000 undergrads are enrolled in UCF's College of Engineering and Computer Science. Of those 7,000-plus, 19 student-athletes have selected engineering as a major. Of those 19 Knights, six are female.
And Baptista, a UCF women's tennis sophomore from Portugal, happens to be one of them.
She has not given a second thought to classifying her life or situation as unique. Then again, Baptista has also had the privilege of molding herself with the help of inspiring role models like her great uncle Ricardo Durão.
Durão, who went on to become a five-star general, competed for Portugal in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, in the pentathlon. He is now 85 years old and one the biggest influences in Baptista's life.
"Ever since I can remember, at every family dinner or festivity, everyone listens to his stories; he can just light up the whole room," Baptista said. "He's a very passionate person and has always fought for what he believes in and strove to be the best man he could be."
She seems to share the same spirited determination.
When she was 11, she contracted mononucleosis, but doctors failed to properly diagnose her at first. Thinking it could be a number of other ailments, she underwent multiple treatments and had her tonsils removed, but she said it took roughly three years to fully recover.
She lost her muscle mass and her confidence was shaken. She grew frustrated at her weak body and losing to "lesser" competition.
"But I never gave up," Baptista said. "I always went to practice five days a week, even when everyone told me it was not worth it and that the best thing to do was to quit tennis. And it did pay off. Finally I started improving. It was a long process but I ended up stronger than I was before. At 15, I was in the top-five of my country, and now I'm here."
It's a move that has worked out well for the beach lover, who knew if she was going to accept a scholarship in the States, it had to be somewhere with a tropical climate.
Baptista has been interested in structures and math from an early age, so pursuing a degree in civil engineering seemed like a no-brainer to her.
In the fall, to her delight, she was selected for the UCF Civil, Engineering and Construction Engineering (CECE) Department Sophomore Award for outstanding academic achievement. As an incentive, she earned a day shadowing a Disney Imagineer.
She toured backstage of the Magic Kingdom and saw the inner workings of everything from ride maintenance to transportation at the parks.
"I couldn't stop smiling. I could picture myself there and it would be a really cool job, too," she said. "One of the structural engineers said every day the job is something different, so it's not like you sit at a desk and do the same work every single day. And that's good for me - I don't like to do the same thing."
Baptista said the experience was the first time she saw her future in action, not just in books and papers. Whether she ends up at the "Happiest Place on Earth" or building bridges in underdeveloped regions of Africa, Baptista is certain she is setting herself up now for a fulfilling career ahead.
"I want to be successful in a company," Baptista said, "but I also want to be in a company or do my own thing where I can have a social impact and help others."