An unexpected detour didn’t stop this grad

Otoniel Encarnacion
Degree: BBA in Accounting and Finance
Hometown: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
It’s a fact: He loves to bike during the summer and is training to ride from Milwaukee to Madison with his younger brother.

Otoniel Encarnacion was just finishing his senior year at Milwaukee’s South Division High School and getting ready to go to college when his family’s life was turned upside down.

Because of a paperwork glitch with his father’s visa, they had to return to the Dominican Republic, which the family had 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. In the meantime, Encarnacion got a job at Western Union and started saving for college. “All that time I was just waiting to go back,” he says.

As soon as his family returned to Milwaukee, he wasted no time in enrolling at Milwaukee Area Technical College to earn his general education credits, eventually transferring to UWM to study accounting and finance in the Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business.

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.”

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,” Encarnacion says.

On campus, he was also 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.

While he is looking forward to simply working for a while and finally having evenings and weekends free to spend with his wife, he’s already planning to dive into his master’s degree in Professional Accounting at UWM next summer.

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

It hasn’t always been easy. 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…that my education was because of my hard work,” he says.