Santiago Murillo

Sophomore, Business Administration Major

Santiago Cardona Murillo never lets a challenge stop him from persevering, whether it’s learning a new language or figuring out how to afford college.

Murillo came to America at the age of 12 from Colombia without knowing any English and dedicated himself to learning as much as he could as quickly as possible to open up opportunities for himself and his family.

“I became obsessed with learning when I came here,” Murillo said.

He faced many challenges as a child going to school in a new country, but worked hard to learn English through an ESL program. By the time he got to Southern High School in Louisville, Murillo was working at UPS through a program at Southern and earning dual credits for college courses. Now, Murillo is a sophomore studying business administration at UofL and hopes to minor in philosophy or management.

“Louisville was the first place I’d ever stayed for five years and I could really see myself growing here,” Murillo said. “UofL was the biggest help financially and is close to my family, plus it’s just a great university. So I went for it.”

Part of what gave Murillo the ability to go for it was receiving the Cardinal Commitment Grant, need-based aid designed to help students cover gaps in federal financial aid and the total cost of attending UofL. As part of its focus on accessibility to education, the university recently expanded the program to thousands more Kentucky students.

A first-generation student, Murillo said the aid helped him afford books, save up for a new computer and allowed him to focus on his studying without financial worries getting in the way of his success.

“Getting that grant was so amazing because it made me less stressed,” Murillo said. “I thought I was going to have to work so hard to try to pay off the tuition and my parents always told me to pay for my own college, which was tough because I didn’t know how. With the grant, I could do this and relax about the financial situation.”

Murillo said the financial support also helped him have time to grow personally by allowing him to use his spare time to work as a compliance manager at a local healthcare company and get into real estate on the side, saving money that will help him in the future. His aspirations are big – and more accessible now that his education costs are covered.

“I like the idea of always learning and I think business administration is going to lead me to learning every aspect of business, which is ethics and accounting and finance and marketing and communications and even human resources … I want to learn a little bit of everything,” Murillo said.

Murillo isn’t just paving his path to success. He’s also showing his younger brother how to follow in his footsteps.

“I’m breaking the chains as a first-generation student. I want to set an example for my five-year-old brother so I can show him how to treat people and be successful,” Murillo said. “He says he wants to buy his own apartment and go to UofL now that he’s seen me do this. I can guide him.”

“I’m just really grateful. I never thought I would be able to go to a university, I never saw that in Colombia,” he added. “I still have so much to learn, but thanks to the Cardinal Commitment Grant I was able to get that education I always wanted and needed to be the first person to graduate in my family.”

“Maybe when I graduate I’ll even be able to start my own company.”