Once Homeless and Hungry, Grad Forges Forward for Change

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UW–Madison students do great things, even when the cards are stack against them. Pablo Montes, a first-generation, working-class student, was dependent on aid when he transferred to UW–Madison. Once here, he was blindsided by the university’s steeper cost of living.

Montes became homeless, couch-surfing among friends and unable even to get help from Wisconsin’s FoodShare program without a residential address. When he found a sublet opportunity, it took three jobs to make ends meet. His full-time work, full-time school, research fellowship and work with student activist groups left almost no time for studying or sleep, and bills left almost no money for food. At one point, Montes lived off $0.58 for two weeks, too embarrassed to ask for help.

On the heels of that trial, Montes was awarded the Bascom Hill Society scholarship, which paid full tuition, room and board for his senior year. But where others might have coasted on reversal of fortune, Montes doubled down on making change. He led efforts to build a system for emergency shelter for UW–Madison students facing housing insecurity, helped organize a food pantry, and became president of the Working Class Student Union.

This fall, Montes will start his master’s at the University of Texas at Austin — the next step towards his PhD and a career leading progress in higher education. It’s a choice that shows how the Wisconsin Idea still manifests in its now second century, and how donor support gives hardworking, mission-driven students a solid foundation from which to make a real difference in the world.