Throughout the years, UW-Milwaukee has seen many notable students. In October, the Alumni Association Awards were held at Discovery World, honoring notable past students who are succeeding outside of the classroom. More than 20 UWM alums were awarded because of their professional achievements, civic involvement, and partnerships with the university.
The last of the three alumni, Paola Felix-Encarnación is from Carolina, Puerto Rico. She studied at UW-Milwaukee from 2007-2011. Her original plan was to become a math teacher, but she switched her majors and completed a dual degree in Spanish with a minor in History and Community Education. Felix-Encarnación now works with City Year in Milwaukee.
How was your college experience?
Felix-Encarnación: I started at UWM with two of my friends from High School. I was a commuter student so most of my time was spent in the library, the grind and on the bus. I loved the idea of going to UWM but was overwhelmed with the newness of it all. It was not until I took a course called Spanish for Spanish Speakers (SPA 319) that I felt like I would be able to succeed at UWM. There is something about being with people that sound like me and look like me.
What stands out to you about UWM?
Felix-Encarnación: I think the experience that stands out the most about my college experience was having to buy a fetal pig for a lab course. I remember being in the Union Bookstore basement attempting to find a fetal pig and having no idea where to find it. Someone came up to me because they probably saw my confused face. It was the first time I felt a sense of community in this huge place.
How has UWM influenced your career?
Felix-Encarnación: I discovered one of my majors while working for the UWM Alumni Association. I was an office assistant, part of my job was to update alumni records. I kept seeing this major called Community Education popping up and all the cool things these people were doing. I looked into it and I realized it was more close to what I see myself doing than my math major.
Do you have any advice for the current students?
Felix-Encarnación: My biggest advice is to try to study abroad or put yourself in situations where you are challenged on your thoughts, who you are and your beliefs. I did that after college and I am absolutely a different person because of it.
Was there a specific professor who challenged you?
Felix-Encarnación: I can think of 2 professors who both challenged and influenced me. One was Dr. Marie Sandy she was passionate, comfortable in her own skin and vocal about what she cared about. She taught me to be ok with being me. César Ferreira challenged me in how I thought about my place in the world. In his class I was expected to know Latin America current news, and consequences from past historical facts.
What was your favorite campus hangout spot?
Felix-Encarnación: I always enjoyed going to the grind, getting coffee and a muffin and heading to the 3rd floor in the library. It was my favorite spot to study and to catch a nap.
What do you love about Milwaukee?
Felix-Encarnación: I love all the hidden secrets in it. The restaurants, the parks, the amount of people that want to help and the history.
What was your alumni award for?
Felix-Encarnación: I was awarded the Graduate of the Last Decade. It was surreal because I had helped prepare for this event in the past. I am honored and amazed I received this award.