La Crosse, Wis. — Hundreds of students will walk the La Crosse Center stage Sunday, Dec. 18, at UW-La Crosse’s winter commencement.   

But few had a longer road than Kathryn Suwa.  

Suwa, who will receive her master’s degree in student affairs administration, is traveling from her native Nigeria to attend the ceremony, and to see her classmates and instructors face-to-face for the first time.  

But Suwa’s journey cannot be measured by physical distance alone. She also overcame several logistical obstacles — including scrapping her original plans to take in-person courses — due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Commencement, she says, “will serve as the culmination of all of my efforts over the past two years. I expect to feel a sense of accomplishment, a connection with the university and the people, and a sense of belonging that comes with in-person learning and interaction.”  

Suwa works for EducationUSA, a network run by the U.S. State Department that promotes U.S. higher education in more than 175 countries and territories. She was drawn to UWL’s student affairs administration program, she says, because of the high-quality faculty and robust curriculum.  

Suwa wanted the complete UWL experience. She planned to live in La Crosse, take classes on campus and work in UWL’s International Education & Engagement office as a graduate assistant.  

But COVID-19 and delays in visa processing made travel from Nigeria to the United States nearly impossible.  

Instead, Suwa took advantage of the program’s online offering, which also had an asynchronous option allowing her to take classes on her own schedule.   

That flexibility was key, she says. It not only mitigated the seven-hour time difference — it helped her juggle all the other priorities in her life, including raising two children and continuing to work full time.  

“I refer to the last two years as the most challenging time of my life,” Suwa says. “I realized during this time that balance must be looked at long-term because at every point, you prioritize one thing over another, and at that point, it’s not balanced. It took a lot of discipline and adaptability because I kept refining my schedule until my final semester. I focused on school at night and everything else during the day.”  

Tori Svoboda, chair of the Student Affairs Administration Department, says Suwa “triumphed over several challenges these past few years,” impressing her instructors along the way.  

“Through it all, Kathryn remained incredibly positive, completing an online practicum with the International Education & Engagement office, as well as a terrific capstone paper on developing student services in higher education in Nigeria,” Svoboda says.  

While Suwa plans to soak in every moment of her trip to La Crosse, she is already excited about what’s next.  

Short term, she wants to gain experience working in higher education, so she can contextualize everything she learned in the program.  

Long term, she hopes to bring the experiences students have in U.S. higher education to Nigerian universities.   “Education is the bedrock of society and the key to meaningful national development; this has proven true in every country with an excellent educational system,” Suwa says. “Working in the field of education, I have the opportunity to contribute to building lives that will go on to build nations in a way that creates a never-ending ripple effect.”

– UWL –The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, founded in 1909, is one of the 13 four-year institutions in the University of Wisconsin System. UWL offers 130-plus degree programs from undergraduate to doctoral levels in arts, social science and humanities; science and health; business; and education. UW-La Crosse — www.uwlax.edu — is a top-ranked national university. It is the No. 1 public university in Wisconsin with less than 25,000 students, according to U.S. News & World Report’s Best National Universities ranking.