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UAFS Faculty Celebrate Cousin's Election

UAFS Faculty Celebrate Cousin's Election(Posted: April 8, 2014)

When Martha Bieber – Spanish instructor at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith – babysat her cousin Luis Guillermo Solis when she was a teenager, she had no idea the boy she looked after was a future president.

But that became the case after Solis won the Costa Rican presidential election April 6, winning in a landslide with 77 percent of the vote and becoming the first Costa Rican president to win an election with over a million votes.

His popularity in Costa Rica came about partly due to his commitment to education. Solis graduated with a degree in history from the University of Costa Rica in 1979, before continuing to earn his master's degree at Tulane University. Following that, he became a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Michigan before involving himself in Central American politics.

Bieber and Solis' families lived near each other in San Jose, Costa Rica, when he was growing up, and Bieber saw something special in the boy at an early age.

"He was always a very smart child," Bieber said. "He was bright as a button. I was an only child, and Vivienne – Luis Guillermo's mother and my first cousin – was like a sister to me. So I always considered Luis more like my nephew."

Mary Sobhani of Fort Smith, Spanish instructor in the World Languages Department, is a second cousin to Solis.

"Knowing Luis Guillermo, I have to say his success is not a surprise, even though he started out as the underdog in the elections," Sobhani said. "His mother Vivienne taught in the College of Education in the Universidad de Costa Rica, and she raised Luis Guillermo to value education in the service of others. If she were still alive, she'd be delighted."

Solis and Bieber remained close after she moved to the United States. His first time to visit the U.S. was to stay at her house in Gainesville, Fla. for a summer. Years later, he would return to the U.S. to earn his master's degree at Tulane.

Sobhani, Bieber and other family members will attend the inaugural festivities in May, celebrating a president-elect who, just a year ago, worked as a faculty member at the University of Costa Rica.

"That's one of the things that I love: the next president of Costa Rica is a member of the academy – not an ivory-tower professor either," Sobhani said. "He's very down-to-earth and experienced in the way the world works. He's intelligent, eloquent and of high integrity. It's very nice to be able to personally know that about the president of a nation – kind of surreal, actually."

Article by: John Post, Public Relations Assistant

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