University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee students often get hands-on experience in their field while earning a degree

December 20, 2012
Nick Robinson

Nick Robinson

UW-Milwaukee Community Column

Two of this December’s top graduates – Nick Robinson and Otoniel Encarnacion – used that combination of work and study to find success. Robinson is graduating with a master’s degree in architecture and Encarnacion with a BBA in Finance.

Throughout Encarnacion’s college career, he worked full time or near full time while also balancing full-time coursework. He managed to do it all – even double majoring – in just four years and six months. “I knew I was going to have to work full time to put myself through college and that it would be really hard, but I now know it was worth it,” he says. After spending three years working as a bank teller, he landed an accounting internship at Northwestern Mutual, where he still works. “What I learned at UWM made me more confident to take on more challenging jobs,” says

UWM-student-1Encarnacion, who plans to go on for a master’s degree at UWM. Nick Robinson, who decided to become an architect when he was in grade school, started interning at the Uihlein/Wilson architecture firm while in high school, and continued to work there through undergraduate and graduate school. As a child he loved to draw, filling notebooks with cartoon characters and whatever caught his interest. An architect who visited his elementary school for career day cemented his career choice. Robinson was blown away by the experience, discovering – “He gets paid to draw!”

Encarnacion was a senior at South Division High School when his college plans were seriously disrupted. Because of a paperwork glitch with his father’s visa, he and his family had to return to the Dominican Republic, which they’d left nearly five years before. “It was a shock for everybody,” Encarnacion says. “I cried the first day I got there because I didn’t know anyone anymore. It was a rough time.” He and his family put their life in Milwaukee on hold, thinking they’d only be gone for three months while they got the paperwork resolved. But instead, three months stretched to three years. After returning to Milwaukee and completing an associate’s degree at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), Encarnacion started at UWM’s Lubar School of Business.

Both graduates were encouraged by faculty members and programs at UWM.

As a McNair Scholar, Robinson worked with Professor Mike Utzinger to study the city’s heat island effect and water retention on the Urban Ecology Center’s green roof.

He also studied abroad for three months in France and Spain. “Paris is a freaking playground for architecture. Even their apartment buildings look like something you’d take a picture of.”

Last semester, Robinson went with Associate Professor Gil Snyder to tour Boston’s architecture.

On campus, Encarnacion was active in Beta Alpha Psi, an honorary organization for accounting students. He credits Beta Alpha Psi’s networking opportunities, which introduced him to accounting professionals throughout the city, with helping him earn a postgraduate internship at the prestigious accounting firm Deloitte in downtown Milwaukee. “I feel pretty lucky,” he says.

Jim Fischer, a lecturer in accounting, says Encarnacion stood out because of his ready smile and intense focus during his advanced financial accounting course. They continued to meet from time to time after Fischer’s class was over. “He was a student who was just fun to work with,” Fischer says. “He has a lot of maturity for his age.”

Encarnacion plans to continue on for a graduate degree at UWM, and become a Certified Public Accountant. He never considered going anywhere but UWM for his graduate work. “The program is amazing,” says Encarnacion. “Everything has gone so smoothly so I don’t see a reason to move to another school.”

It hasn’t always been easy, he adds. But that’s part of what has made this graduation day so worthwhile. “I’m most proud that I made it, that I put myself through school working full time.”