Bianca-Martina Rohner’s first trip tothe United States was to begin her freshman year at Converse College. The native of Germany wanted to go to school in the United States, and she said the pictures of Converse she saw online looked nice. When the school offered her money to play tennis, she enrolled.
“I had never been to the U.S. before, my parents had never been, no one had ever been,” Rohner said. “I just randomly applied to (seven or eight) different places around the country. For some reason I thought South Carolina sounded nice. I found Converse online, and I looked at the pictures and it looked really pretty.”
Four years later, Rohner, who goes by Tina, will walk across the stage today as one of the Class of 2007’s most accomplished graduates. She was the head delegate for the school’s highly regarded Model Arab League, Model United Nations and Model NATO teams, the No. 1 player on the tennis team, the founder of the Converse International Student Association and the student government treasurer. She double-majored in economics and political science, with minors in Chinese and business administration, and will graduate with a 3.99 grade-point average.
Rohner turned down graduate school offers from Harvard and Yale universities so she could attend the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy for the next two years.
Joe Dunn, the adviser for Converse’s model debate teams, described Rohner as a “once-in-a-career type of student.” “Some people just have it as leaders,” Dunn said. “Tina has that. People just look to her. People realize she knows more than they know.”
Rohner’s hometown, Kaufbeuren, Germany, population 44,000, is in a remote location near the Alps, about an hour west of Munich and 30 minutes north of the Austrian border. Her parents, a German father and an Austrian mother, own a dry-cleaning business there. “If I drive three hours in any direction (from Kaufbeuren), I’m in a different country, maybe multiple different countries,” Rohner said.
“I was interested in exploring different cultures, just going to a different part of the world I had never been to before.” She arrived at Converse in the fall of 2003 with extensive knowledge of English. “I was very adventurous,” Rohner said. “I wasn’t scared, I was just excited. I didn’t expect to have all these opportunities. I pretty much expected to go to school, play tennis and then go home for the summer. … Converse exceeded my expectations.”
Dunn taught one of Rohner’s freshman-year classes and soon encouraged her to join the school’s model teams, which are annually the best in the nation. She quickly became a leader, and in the spring of her freshman year, traveled with the team to Washington, D.C. That travel inspired her to do three summers of far-flung internships, in New York, Washington and Dubai. The two-year program with the National University of Singapore will allow her to continue her world travel. “She’s stubborn; She’s determined,” Dunn said. “I’d tell her we couldn’t do something, and she’d say, ‘That cannot be that impossible.’ When she focuses on doing something, she does it. The fact that it’s impossible just drives her.”