Veronica Solano got her first glimpse of University of Wisconsin-Stout and Menomonie when she traveled from Paraguay with her family to graduate in December with a master’s degree in education.
Solano, 43, of Encarnacion, also completed the certificate in e-learning and online teaching in December. In July she will finish the certificate in instructional design.
“After two years of working online, I felt I needed to see the university I have learned to admire,” Solano said. “Also, for me, the whole trip was my reward for two years of hard work. I love traveling, and I wanted to experience what it was like to be a UW-Stout student on campus, even if it was for just a few days.”
While on campus, Solano was able to get a student identification, spent time in the University Library and walked around campus. She had lunch in the Memorial Student Center and even purchased a UW-Stout logo sweatshirt and mug.
Having lived in Seattle before, where she got her undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Washington in 2000, Solano had experienced snow but not as much as she saw on her trip to Menomonie. Her daughter, Anisa, who traveled with her mother and father, Amin Mansuri, did experience her first snow and snowfall on the trip.
“She is 9 years old, so you can imagine how happy she was,” Solano said. “It snowed a bit every morning the whole time we were there. We had a snowball fight. She made snow angels and enjoyed herself so much at the WinterDaze parade. I sincerely loved Menomonie. The downtown and the lake were beautiful, and everyone we met was very friendly. I enjoyed the small-town feeling.”
The population of Encarnacion, Paraguay, in southern South America, is about 130,000. The city is nearly 5,500 miles from Menomonie.
UW-Stout was ‘right’ choice
Solano, who works at the software company, Integradevs, coordinating educational and community outreach projects, said before deciding where to pursue her master’s degree she researched online programs for more than a year. She analyzed courses, asked questions about evaluation processes, sending queries to 10 universities.
“The people at UW-Stout were the quickest to answer my e-mails and were always clear and detailed in their explanations,” Solano said. “For me, as for any graduate student financing their own education, a master’s degree is a significant financial investment and one that causes a bit of trepidation. I chose right.”
Over two years, Solano decided to get her master’s and take classes for the two certificates. She wanted a fast-paced learning environment and found the master’s level core classes and the shorter, project-oriented certificate classes worked for her.
Susan Manning, an associate lecturer in the College of Education, Hospitality, Health and Human Services, taught Solano in three classes: Games for Learning and Assessment; Instructional Design for Online Learning; and Instructional Strategies and Assessment.
Solano was a very bright and capable student.
“She had a natural curiosity about learning and applying what she was learning right away,” Manning said. “It is highly unusual for online students to come to graduation, so the fact that she came from Paraguay makes this extraordinary.”
As part of her job in Paraguay, Solano teaches English to the software developers and heads a volunteer project where computer science students teach programming to high school students to encourage them to choose to study computer science in college.
“I’ve been able to start applying what I’ve learned in the program by creating a blended English course for the developers and an online companion course for the computer science volunteers,” Solano said. “The job-orientation of UW-Stout has given me specific skills to improve what I do. While the philosophical analysis of educational theory had a great impact on the way I reflect on my teaching practices, the project-based orientation of most classes has given me specific goals, things to improve in the way I plan instruction and teach.
Solano’s oldest daughter, Nasim, 22, of Worcester, Mass., who is studying chemical engineering and professional writing at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, also traveled to see her family and her mom graduate from UW-Stout.
“My mom has never backed down from a challenge, so the fact that going to the graduation ceremony meant traveling to the U.S.A. didn’t seem strange to us,” Nasim said. “It’s been inspiring to watch her pursue what she loves with such enthusiasm during these past years, and seeing the culmination of her efforts was a wonderful, celebratory moment.”
Top: Online student Veronica Solano receives a congratulatory kiss after commencement from daughters, Nasim, left, and Anisa.
Second: With her daughter, Anisa, 9, Veronica Solano visits campus in December for commencement. It was the first time Anisa experienced snow.
Bottom: Veronica Solano, along with her husband, Amin Mansuri, and their daughters, Nasim and Anisa, right, attend the graduation buffet.