But after grueling touring schedules interfered with Souza's education at the Universidade Do Estado Da Bahia, she began exploring opportunities to pursue her studies while remaining a star athlete. Her interest in civil engineering brought Souza to the University of Mississippi, where she has managed to both excel in her studies and on the soccer field.
"I came to Ole Miss because of the opportunity it provided me to both study engineering and to play soccer," Souza said. "I couldn't do both in Brazil, but here I can."
Coming from a city of 3 million people in South America to a much smaller town in the southern United States has been a challenge for Souza. Among the biggest of these challenges has been learning and mastering English as a second language. Though still perfecting her speech, the sophomore has passed the TOEFL exam, allowing her to enroll in required coursework for her degree and thus be eligible by the National Collegiate Athletic Association rules to participate in sporting events.
"I'm still learning how to express my opinions in English," Souza said with a smile. "I speak well enough to communicate with my teammates and have good relationships with them."
While Souza has played against soccer teams from all over the world without injury, she endured her first in an Ole Miss match against the University of Tennessee this fall.
"We were ahead 3-0 when I got hurt and had to stay on the sidelines the entire second half. Tennessee then came back and beat us 4-3," Souza said. "I hate being injured and I hate having to ice my leg in physical therapy. I'm from Brazil!"
Souza's resilience has made quite an impression upon those around her, said Marni Kendricks, assistant dean of the engineering school and adviser for general engineering students, including Souza.
"Rafa has lots of perserverance, intelligence and dedication under pressure," Kendricks said. "Being an athlete shows she knows how to manage her time and a necessary level of self-discipline to succeed. I think her international experience is also a tremendous asset which will allow her to take advantage of the many opportunities - domestically and globally - for engineers."
While Souza's first loves are soccer and engineering, she also enjoys playing video games and talking with family and friends back home via Facebook and Skype.
"I want to be a civil engineer because I love math, physics and architecture," Souza said. "In Brazil, both soccer and engineering are mostly men's territory, but I love the challenge."
"Having a degree from Ole Miss will be awesome. My family would never have been able to afford sending me to a big university outside of Brazil. Only here would I have such a wonderful opportunity to play soccer and earn my degree at the same time."
For more information, visit UM's Department of Civil Engineering or call 662-915-7191.