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Katia Grillo Finally Gets to Physics, at age 55

By Melvin James

At age 55, Katia Grillo is finally pursuing a childhood dream. The former businesswoman and grandmother from Brazil is studying physics at Old Dominion University.

"Physics gives you the answer to so many things; it gives you the sense of discovery with each new thing you learn," said Grillo, who enrolled at Old Dominion in 2014 and plans to graduate in 2018.

The opportunity to study quantum mechanics and fluid dynamics opened up for Grillo in 2013, when she moved to Norfolk from Italy to help her daughter Allita de Oliveira Braga, 33, '15, the oldest of her five children, care for her daughter, Athena.

Grillo lived in Brazil for her first 43 years. She attended Fundação Getulio Vargas in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's top school for business administration. Why didn't she choose physics then? Her father had wanted her to study there because he never got the opportunity himself.

She stopped one semester shy of completing the program and got married. But the skills she learned there earned her positions at international companies like Cargill, Western Union and Samsung.

Grillo found success in other areas as well. She knows six languages (Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, English, French, and German), which helped her land a job in the Commercial Department of the U.S. Consulate in Sao Paulo as a translator and interpreter.

She even opened her own school in Brazil, providing foreign language instruction to students from ages 8 to 60. "The world will be a better place if we learn to communicate with each other," Grillo said.

The challenges of physics haven't totally surprised Grillo. "It is as hard as I expected, although it is more time-consuming than I thought it would be," she said. Grillo regularly studies 8 hours per day, and that excludes class time.

"She is hard-headed; nobody can tell her she can't do something," her daughter said. Braga, 33, also described her mother as a "revolutionary person, always pushing barriers," with an impeccable work ethic.

When Grillo is not studying, she enjoys visiting the Chrysler Museum of Art, taking in the works of the great artists like Picasso and Renoir. She compares Norfolk to Italy, calling it "the American Venice," with its many bridges across the Elizabeth and Lafayette rivers.

What connects her pursuit of business, physics and the arts is her eagerness to expand her knowledge. "I just want to keep learning," she said. "The only thing no one can take from you is what you know. Whatever door opens, I want to have the chance to go look inside."

Melvin James '17 recently graduated with a degree in journalism. He is from Virginia Beach.

This story appeared in the spring issue of Monarch magazine. To read more from the magazine, go to www.odu.edu/monarchmag

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