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Blugold hailing from small island has global ambitions

| Judy Berthiaume

A lot of Blugolds hail from small towns throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota, but not many can say they were among just nine students in their high school graduating class.

Growing up in Door County, UW-Eau Claire senior Robin Swanson attended the Washington Island School, the smallest K-12 school in the state of Wisconsin.

While her school and hometown were small, the opportunities she found there were huge.

“All sports teams were open to any student; no try-outs were required,” Robin says. “Student Council, yearbook, basketball, soccer and community theater all filled my schedule throughout my high school years.”

 From her home on tiny Washington Island, Robin also discovered there is a big world to explore.

“When I was in eighth grade, I went to Europe for the first time for two weeks with the People to People World Leadership Forum,” Robin says. “After I returned from my trip I was so ecstatic about traveling that I started looking at study abroad programs.”

A family friend told her about Rotary International, an organization that offers study abroad programs to high school students. Through the program, she spent a month after her freshman year of high school in Germany as part of a short-term youth exchange.

It was such a positive experience that she returned home determined to study abroad for a full year, this time in a Spanish-speaking country in South America. She chose Argentina because she was intrigued by the country’s culture.

What she learned about herself that year has influenced her UW-Eau Claire journey and is shaping how she is thinking about her future.

“Being only 16 when I left, it automatically made me more independent but also more knowledgeable and open-minded,” Robin says of her year in Argentina. “I always knew I was interested in business and working with people, but being abroad made me realize how much opportunity there is in the international market.”

That interest in international business played a huge part in bringing Robin to UW-Eau Claire.

“While I’d always been interested in pursuing a degree in business, it wasn't until after I studied abroad that I decided to learn more about opportunities in the international arena,” Robin says. “When I was beginning to tour schools, UW-Eau Claire had just introduced a new international business major. I came to visit campus and loved the natural beauty of UW-Eau Claire. I felt comfortable walking on campus and could visualize myself being successful here. The size of the school and cost of tuition was right in my ballpark.”

It turned out to be the perfect fit, academically and personally.

Robin will graduate in May with degrees in international business and Spanish for business professions.

“I’ve really enjoyed the class content as well as my professors within my areas of study,” Robin says. “As an IB major, I’m required to take specialized courses but also a variety of courses within the College of Business. So not only do I have an IB major, UW-Eau Claire's IB program has made me into a very well-rounded business student.”

The Spanish program also has been wonderful, Robin says, noting that in addition to her course work she’s working with a Spanish professor on a marketing-based research project.

Just as she did in high school, at UW-Eau Claire Robin also embraced a variety of opportunities that helped her gain knowledge, experience and important connections with her peers and faculty mentors.

She was part of a Global Learning Community in Katherine Thomas Hall, worked as a resident assistant for two years, explored U.S. history through the Civil Rights Pilgrimage, worked as a student manager for Sodexo Catering and has collaborated with faculty on research.

“While I've had dozens of high-impact experiences during my time here, some of the best parts of my college career were the people I met,” Robin says. “The professors, mentors, classmates and friends that I made during my time in college are irreplaceable.

“The relationships I've had with professors have led to scholarships, a research project and me being able to sit on and give feedback at several College of Business yearly board meetings.”

While all those experiences have enhanced her college career, working as a Campus Ambassador has been the most rewarding, Robin says.

“The Campus Ambassadors are the students in the blue and yellow striped bumble bee-looking rugbies that you see on campus giving tours to prospective students and families,” Robin says. “They also do a lot of other valuable work for UW-Eau Claire, like calling prospective students, attending college fairs and volunteering in the community. This group of students constantly displays what love, dedication, support and hard work are, and is constantly giving back to UW-Eau Claire.”

After she graduates, Robin hopes that her dual major — along with her many outside-the-classroom experiences — will help her land a job as a marketing or business analyst for a progressive global company.

“My ultimate goal is to end up working in international trade, which will require a few years of experience under my belt with an international company,” Robin says. “I hope to continue to use my Spanish language skills within my work as well.”

With her college career winding down, what advice would Robin offer to UW-Eau Claire’s newest Blugolds?

“Don't worry about failing at UW-Eau Claire,” Robins says. “You've got all the resources — and more — that you need to be successful here. You just need to have the drive and ambition to be successful. There are a lot of opportunities outside of the classroom so make sure to explore them. Your time here will go by way faster than you think so make the most of it.”

Also, know that you will graduate with the knowledge and experiences you need to chase your dreams, Robin says.

“I'm going to miss my college experience, but I'm very excited for the next chapter in my life and career,” Robin says. “Although I’m nervous to step away from the role as a college student, I know that I’m prepared for what the future has in store for me.”

Photo caption: Robin Swanson