Graduates gathered in Zorn Arena on Dec. 21 were assured that their University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire education has prepared them well for the future — and advised to make giving back a part of whatever that future holds.
The assurance and advice came from a source who should know: Beatris Mendez-Gandica, a 2013 UW-Eau Claire information systems and international business graduate, who returned to campus to deliver the Charge to the Class at her alma mater’s morning and afternoon commencement ceremonies.
Mendez-Gandica is a security program manager for Microsoft, where she landed employment following her UW-Eau Claire graduation. Last May she received the UW-Eau Claire Alumni Association’s Outstanding Recent Alumnus Award, which acknowledges alumni who’ve made special achievements and shown great promise within 15 years of their graduation from the university.
Mendez-Gandica recalled her time at UW-Eau Claire, where she arrived on a cold January day after leaving the warmth and sun of her native Venezuela. Despite the jarring difference in climate, she quickly became active in the life of the campus and over time discovered her passion for technology in an information systems class. She also found valued support from her professors in the College of Business and landed two internships.
Beyond the classroom, UW-Eau Claire “presented many opportunities for expanding my global mindset,” Mendez-Gandica said, recalling her study-abroad experience in China and faculty-student research participation in India.
As her career with Microsoft has progressed, Mendez-Gandica said she has learned that her UW-Eau Claire experience was only “the beginning of many learnings.”
“One thing that I have come to realize is that your education isn’t done when you graduate from UW-Eau Claire,” she said. “This experience is just a steppingstone that will have prepared you to be a lifelong learner in your area of expertise. It’s on each one of you to take what you’ve learned, empower others and solve the problems that exist in the world today.
For Mendez-Gandica, that duty to empower others was instilled by her grandfather, who she said raised her “with the morals to always give back.” Inspired by that upbringing and her UW-Eau Claire experience working with youth through the Blugold Beginnings program, she decided two years ago how she could make a difference.
“I wanted to do something bigger than myself and wanted to help the next generation of students to pursue science, technology, engineering and math careers,” Mendez-Gandica said. “So, I started a nonprofit called Nuevo Foundation, where we inspire kids to be curious, confident and courageous by discovering the world of STEM. I’m happy to report that after almost two years of operations, we’ve inspired 2,917 students with ‘learn to code’ workshops and virtual sessions across seven countries.”
Mendez-Gandica told graduates that UW-Eau Claire has prepared them make their own mark.
“I encourage you to find your passion and give back,” she said. “You can make a difference. You. We all come from different backgrounds. You have the power to rewrite the rules of the world.”