UW–Madison celebrates inaugural graduates in online bachelor’s degree program

Kristy at her computer outside on a sunny day

They’ve taken detours and traveled winding roads, but through perseverance and fully online learning, a pioneering cohort of returning adult students have arrived at their dream destination: a degree from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

This spring, 29 Badgers received their diplomas and the distinction of being among the first graduates of UW–Madison Online

“We celebrate not only the academic accomplishments of our online graduates but also their resilience and determination in navigating the challenges of pursuing higher education,” said UW–Madison Provost Charles Lee Isbell, Jr. “The success of our first cohort underscores the creative ways to enable access through online education and demonstrates the transformative power of education to break down barriers and empower individuals to realize their full potential and their dreams.”

Some students from this first class of online graduates have shared the diverse paths they’ve taken to reach their educational goals:

headshot of Manny Avila standing outside, smiling
Manny Avila

First-generation college student Manny Avila started in person at UW–Madison in 2002 but left to take time off for family and career. Nearly 20 years later, he’s completing his bachelor’s while working full time and raising his son. “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,” he said. “My son is now 13, and I’m proud to finish my degree so that he can follow my steps one day.”


headshot of kristy jorgensen
Kristy Jorgensen

A working mom and member of the Wisconsin National Guard, Kristy Jorgensen’s high school counselor told her she wasn’t college material. She overcame naysayers and other challenges to finish her bachelor’s degree with UW–Madison Online and become the first in her family to do so. “My parents worked on campus in maintenance when I was a kid, so I got to know the campus space very well,” she said. “UW–Madison has always been my dream school.”


headshot of john gloeckler, smiling
John Gloeckler

John Gloeckler is a proud Badger who attended his first UW–Madison hockey game when he was a baby. He started at UW–Madison out of high school but faced a major loss in his family and battled mental health issues. A decade later, he returned to earn his degree. “I was tired of pretending that not finishing my bachelor’s didn’t matter to me,” he said. “I’m finishing this degree at UW–Madison Online because I need to have that sense of accomplishment and know that I can finish what I started.”

In February 2020, UW–Madison launched UW–Madison Online to increase access to the university for students who can’t attend in person and want to balance work, family or other obligations. UW–Madison Online degrees are designed for people who have earned some college credits or an associate degree and want to complete their bachelor’s.

UW–Madison Online currently offers three bachelor’s degree programs from the Wisconsin School of Business in human resources, management and marketing. Students can also earn an online bachelor’s in nursing through the BSN@Home program.

“I am the first in my family to complete a bachelor’s degree, so that was always a goal of mine,” Jorgenson said. “I never thought it would be a reality, however. I faced endless roadblocks before I even started, so though my journey will have taken 17 years from when I graduated high school, it feels amazing to finish.” 

What’s next for these three grads?

  • Manny is a senior treasury analyst with Exact Sciences Corp. and looks forward to pursuing managerial opportunities. He’ll also continue to support his son’s education through high school and beyond.
  • Kristy is interested in starting a side business in financial advising. She’s particularly keen on finding “community partners to allow underserved communities the chance to build their financial net worth and plan for future generations.”
  • By combining his past education in environmental studies and biology with his UW–Madison degree, John hopes to make a positive impact on sustainability and the environment as he advances in his career.

Congratulations to these and all UW–Madison Online graduates! Learn more and follow student stories at online.wisc.edu

DOWNLOAD STUDENT PHOTOS: https://uwmadison.app.box.com/folder/261637468612