First-generation returning adult student boosts career potential, makes family proud

Manny Avila on his computer while his son looks over his shoulder

Manny Avila had three main motivators when he enrolled with UW–Madison Online.

“Getting my bachelor’s degree is important because it’s the achievement of finishing a degree, but I have two other reasons. Number one would be my son,” he said. “And I promised my mom I would do it. I was the first one from our family to come to the U.S. to pursue an education. Getting this degree will make my mom very proud.”

As a first-generation college student, Avila started in person at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 2002 but left to take time off for family and career. Eighteen years later, he returned to complete a Business Administration-Management BBA from the Wisconsin School of Business through UW–Madison Online.

While working full time in a demanding job, raising his son and enjoying life, Avila makes time to listen to lectures, write papers, take exams and get one step closer to fulfilling his educational goal. He’s scheduled to graduate in spring 2024.

“It makes me excited to be part of something bigger than myself,” he said. “Seeing people that have graduated from the university going to other countries, to big companies and doing great things – I want to be one of those Badgers.”

‘Time to finish what I started’

Avila has already had a successful career in a variety of business and finance fields. He’s currently a senior treasury analyst with Exact Sciences Corp., a molecular diagnostics company specializing in the detection of early-stage cancers.

headshot of Manny Avila
Manny Avila

He started at the company in accounts payable, moving into roles with more responsibility because “leaders have placed a lot of confidence in me,” he said. But Avila said he needed a bachelor’s degree to move into a higher-level management role. 

During the pandemic, he was working remotely at Exact Sciences and found he had some time to add schooling into his schedule. He took the leap and applied to UW–Madison Online.

“I decided it was time to finish what I started,” he said.

“I have avoided managing people all my career because I don’t have my degree,” Avila explained. “Now, I will feel more confident in pursuing opportunities that would allow me to be in front of other people, learning from them and inspiring them to achieve the goals of our company.”

Building a Badger community, boosting career potential

More than 20 years ago, Avila started at UW–Madison as a finance major. He’s stuck to a path in business and will graduate with a bachelor of business administration in management. 

Management studies at the Wisconsin School of Business, ranked as the 7th best public undergraduate business program in the U.S., prepares graduates for leadership roles in a variety of growing industries. Management graduates gain valuable skills in communication, collaboration, planning, problem-solving and building relationships.

Avila has already found practical application from his education, noting, “The program has taught me to make good use of my time. I’ve been able to apply many items from class to the real world. The business analytics and finance classes have already helped me a lot.”

Returning to school as a working adult comes with challenges. Avila has sharpened his time management skills, squeezing in study time during the work day at lunch and in the evenings. His colleagues and supervisor fully support his efforts.

“The online format has made a huge difference because I can access the computer at any time,” he said. “I’m a very busy guy. I’m traveling and working full time. I’m a dad. I’m involved in a lot of things in my community. Being able to do school at my own pace and in my own time, that’s huge. It’s so accessible, and it fits perfectly in my life.”

He’s also relished his Badger community, finding support from professors and fellow students, several who will graduate – and celebrate – together after spending plenty of time online studying and discussing coursework.

“I’ve been very lucky to connect with peers. We all have very different goals and backgrounds, but we’re excited to be on this journey together. It’s great to have found a little group of people on the same path,” he said, adding his appreciation of staff and faculty: “They’ve been so supportive, they’re always available, they’re huge cheerleaders for us and they keep us motivated.”

Avila said he’ll carry on his UW–Madison experience after graduation: “It feels very cool as I travel and meet UW–Madison alums and see the pride they have in being a Badger. That is very special to me.”

Setting an example for his son, making mom proud

Avila sees his Badger pride in his son’s eyes. He and his son, Anderson, enjoy playing and watching sports together, and they study together, too. Anderson has watched his dad work at school for four years, and Avila said his son has set college goals for himself, too.

“My son was 9 at the time I restarted college, and I could see how he mimicked everything I did, which led me to set an example that school is important,” Avila said. “My son is now 13, and I cannot wait to finish my degree so that he can follow my steps one day.”

Anderson is already on his way. He’s been accepted into a precollege technology program at UW–Madison and will join peers this summer in hands-on technology coursework, college preparatory academics and personal wellness development that supports successful completion of high school and enrollment into higher education.

“Seeing my son grow up, he always showed the drive that I had as a kid with school,” Avila said. “The main motivator is to show him it doesn’t matter where in life you are, as long as you continue to get educated. It’s been very fun to see him absorb the energy of continuing to learn.”

It’s also been rewarding for Avila to see the pride in his mother’s eyes.

“She and my dad always told me, ‘You’re the brain of the family, you should go out and do big things,’” he said, adding that this degree will help his career potential. “For me to be able to deliver this dream to her and my dad, it’s closing the loop on promises we made to each other a very long time ago. 

“I believe that if I’m able to achieve something like that, it’ll be something I’ve always thought about doing but I’ve never had the confidence or the credentials to prove myself. And now, why not?”

For more information, contact a UW–Madison Online enrollment coach by email at uwmadison@online.wisc.edu, by phone at 608-400-7459 or by text at 608-688-9118. 

Read The Ultimate Guide to Online Business Degrees for more information on getting your degree online.