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Collecting her Paths: from performing to politics to pageants, this honors student has done it all.

| Rosa Gomez

“You don't have to choose a path; you can collect paths.” Ryann Swanson said. “You're going to walk a little bit down one, and then maybe you're going to turn and it's going to connect to another one. But you can collect these paths, which I think that I've done a lot of in my time as a student.”

Ryann Swanson is a fourth-year graphic communications student, graduating summa cuma laude with University Honors in May of 2021. 

Swanson, from Wisconsin Rapids, WI, began her journey at UW-Eau Claire four years ago.

Swanson said she chose this university because the community culture made her feel like a student, not a number. She began her time at UW-Eau Claire as a marketing student but soon switched to pursue her interest in graphic design.

Swanson said she took a variety of diverse courses, including honors courses, to get an interdisciplinary experience from her education. As she built connections along the way, she surrounded herself with people who helped her to create her own home away from away home.

The Activities Involvement Office (AIL) and Concert Dance Company (CDC) at UW-Eau Claire gave Swanson an opportunity to grow both professionally and personally. Swanson, a graphic design intern for AIL, said her involvement on campus enhanced her experience as a student.

“I feel like I've really grown a large network at the university because I have been so committed and interested in building that community aspect throughout college,” Swanson said.

This network has extended beyond academic and professional involvement and into her CDC community. She has been a part of this group of dancers since her second year at the university and this year had the opportunity to choreograph and teach her own piece to the group.

Through her involvement with CDC, she has had many successes beyond choreography. This year, Swanson put together Covid-safe rehearsals for the group as well as a recital. Swanson said she was proud of being able to create a space to continue the relationships between the teammates, but also to help first year students adjust to their Covid-altered college experience.

Ryann Swanson with Mickey Mouse during her Disney College Program internship.

Even beyond the university setting, Swanson’s achievements don’t stop. She has taken advantage of some unique opportunities, such as the Disney College Program. During her sophomore year, this internship allowed her to move to Orlando, Florida and perform as a Disney character, all while networking with individuals from around the nation.

With the skills she learned and the opportunities passed her way, Swanson considers the Disney Program to be her Blugold abroad experience. On top of it all, “[she] got to make magic for people.”

Her charisma and natural ability to capture a crowd ––as displayed through her Disney performing days––came in handy when she held a title for Miss America.

Swanson also channeled her enthusiastic, extroverted personality into being a force for good.  She was a campaign intern for Emily Anderson and championed her re-election onto the Eau Claire City Council. Anderson teaches the popular UWEC honors course “Muggle Magic” and recruited Swanson through the Honors Program.

Swanson will be moving to Fort Worth, Texas after graduation and is passionate about creating a sustainable and lasting change before her departure.

“Change happens slowly, but to be able to elect another progressive community member to city council was extremely important to me,” Swanson said.  “I'm leaving knowing that Eau Claire is in good hands, because I personally, worked really hard to put someone in office who I know holds the ideals that I think that our city should be moving towards.” Having gone through an immense amount of self-growth, Swanson said, she felt passionate about segueing into the political sphere.

Swanson, a transracial adoptee from China, was adopted at just six months old by a single mother. Growing up and existing in predominantly white spaces presented challenges, especially once her perception of her proximity to whiteness went away, she said. Moving away to college pushed her to grow in understanding of her identity as a woman of color.

“Millions of Americans share my story in their own way, but for various marginalized communities that feeling of disempowerment is the experience in America,” Swanson said.

This feeling, passion and experience is what guided her into politics. Swanson said she feels it is important to share her story of transracial adoption and to advocate for those that come from similar backgrounds.

While having a white mother led to some challenges, her mother’s support has been unparalleled, Swanson said. Her mother ––a “trailblazer”–– has always encouraged and motivated her daughter toward the success she has had, Swanson said.

Swanson said the support she has received and the critical skills she has learned during her time at UW-Eau Claire helped her understand her plethora of different passions. Swanson compared her experience to a journey. Along her route, she has taken many roads ––‘collected paths’–– and will continue down a variety of paths in her future. In other words: it is okay to not have it all figured out and your plan is bound to change.

Her ability to assess the bigger picture is something she credits to her honors courses at UW-Eau Claire. She said her honors courses fostered her critical thinking skills and opened her eyes to see past surface-level status quos.

“College has broadened my perspective and made me a critical thinker,” Swanson said. “Why are things this way? Should they be? And then if they shouldn't, how are we going to change that?”

Swanson said that this is a skill she has applied to her personal life. She has used this to understand the privileges that she has been afforded and how she can utilize them to create a more equitable and just society.

With her political involvement, performing experience and academic achievements Swanson’s background has prepared her for life beyond being a Blugold.

Wherever she ends up, her collection of paths and her continued journey are sure to be successful and adventurous.